Concerns about Hackathons and Establishing Project Flow

Hackathons are great fun, aren’t they? New friends, pizza, maybe some beer. Working on problems that might save the world, or at the very least, a life? We listen to rad music, stare at stacks in confusion, and yell at our code. At the end of the event, we have a working prototype of an idea, and we all feel very good about what we’ve done. But how much impact does it *actually* have? The applications coming out are often poorly documented, stored all over the place, and have quite a bit of work left to do on them. And those devs, the wonderful devs, they disappear back into the mist when the event is done. Leaving their freshly-born application mewling in the cold cold world of the Internet.

So what can we do about that?

Heather Blanchard of Crisis Commons and I sat down at DEFCON to discuss this. We have multiple solutions, which when implemented together, should make this much less of an issue.

1) The problem definitions themselves need a lot of work. Problem definitions are what organizations such as the Red Cross bring to the Volunteer Technology Community in search of software/hardware solutions. You can peruse some on the RHoK site. The individual or organization bringing the problem def also needs to OWN it, making themselves available for questions, resource needs, and feedback.

2) The hackathons themselves are fantastic. But people who are truly inspired and wish to continue their efforts need a way to continue interacting and documenting with their creations.

3) We need a vetting process wherein people actually submit their applications (ala GIS Corps) to be a part of this network and to continue their efforts. When disaster strikes, we must know the people we are calling on for help will respond and will be competent.

4) There needs to be an end to each project. When is something done? Play with it, do a trial run. Did it work? What still needs improvement?

Rinse and repeat.

Crisis Commons and Geeks Without Bounds feels this rough draft of flow will greatly improve the tools emerging from VTCs, give a more meaningful experience to volunteers, and save more lives. And we still get our pizza and 24 hour events for feel-good-feelings, but also a path for continued engagement.