Well Met: Equity by Hackathon Awards

Originally posted on the Truss blog

Hackathons are a way for a community to rally around a cause, to learn from each other, and to push collective work forward. Here’s some research on it. Hackathons are also about publicity and headhunting. Think about the last few hackathons you read about. The piece was probably about the winners. Hackathons are, in general, further the “one great man” narrative.

But feminist hackathons now exist. We wrote a paper on the 2014 Make the Breastpump Not Suck! Hackathon which was about exactly that. But one thing we didn’t get quite right in 2014 was awards.

So for the 2018 Make the Breastpump Not Suck Hackathon, we took a different approach. We made our objectives explicit and described how we would reach towards them by devising a strategy, putting that into a process, and then implementing. This post is about that journey.

Explicit Objectives

Awards are often used to reward the most “innovative” ideas. Prizes are often given out of the marketing budgets of businesses, based on the anticipated attention gained. In contrast, when I have given prizes at open access and disaster response events, I have focused on rewarding the things one’s brain doesn’t already give dopamine for – documentation, building on pre-existing work, tying up loose ends. Our goals for the MtBPNS award process were few, and at first glance could seem at odds with one another. We want to:

  1. encourage more, and more accessible, breast pumping options, especially for historically marginalized populations;
  2. support the burgeoning ecosystem around breast pumping by supporting the continuation of promising ideas, without assuming for- or nonprofit models; and
  3. recognize and celebrate difference and a multitude of approaches.

Slowing down

There’s also an implicit “f*ck it, ship it” mentality associated with hackathons. The goal is to get a bare-bones prototype which can be presented at the end. But combatting *supremacy culture and ceding power require that we slow down. So how do we do that during a weekend-long sprint?

What’s the road from our current reality to these objectives, with this constraint?

Devising a Strategy

Encouraging more options and supporting continuation assumes support through mentorship, attention, and pathways to funding. Each of these could be given as prizes. Celebrating difference assumes not putting those prizes as a hierarchy.

Non-hierarchical prizes

First and foremost, we decided upon not having a hierarchy to our prizes. We put a cap on the maximum value of awards offered, such that the prizes are more equal. And, unlike last time, we removed cash from the equation. While cash (especially for operating expenses) is a vital part of a project moving forward, it complicates things more than we were set up to handle, especially in immediately setting up a hierarchy of amount given.

Strategic metrics

Half of our judges focused on strategic movement towards our objectives, and the other half on pairing with specific prizes. The strategic judges worked with our own Willow as judging facilitator and the MtBNS team to devise a set of priming questions and scales along which to assess a project’s likelihood of furthering our collective goals. You can see where we ended up for overall criteria here.

Awards offered, and who offered them

The other half of the judges were associated with awards. Each award had additional, specific criteria, which are listed on the prizes page here. These judges advocated their pairing with teams where mutual benefit existed.

The process we thought we would do

Day 1

  1. Post criteria to participants on day 1
  2. Judges circulate to determine which teams they’d like to cover
  3. Map the room
  4. Judges flag the 10ish teams they want to work with
  5. Teams with many judges hoping to cover them are asked their preferences
  6. Run a matching algorithm by hand such that each team is covered by 2 award judges and 1 or 2 strategy judges. Each judge has ~5 teams to judge.

Day 2

We hosted a science fair rather than a series of presentations.

  1. Everyone answered against the strategic questions
  2. Judges associated with a prize also ranked for mutual benefit
  3. Discussion about equitable distribution

Award ceremony MC’d by Catherine. Each award announced by a strategy judge, and offered by the judge associated with the award.

Where it broke

The teams immediately flooded throughout the space, some of them merged, others dissipated. We couldn’t find everyone, and there’s no way judges could, either.

There’s no way a single judge could talk to the 40ish teams in the time we had between teams being solid enough to visit and a bit before closing circle. Also, each team being interrupted by 16 judges was untenable. The judges came to our check-in session 2 hours into this time period looking harried and like they hadn’t gotten their homework done on time. We laughed about how unworkable it was and devised a new process for moving forward.

Updates to the process

Asked teams to put a red marker on their table if they don’t want to be interrupted by judges, mentors, etc.

  1. Transitioned to team selection of awards.
  2. Made a form for a member of each team to fill out with their team name, locations, and the top three awards they were seeking.
  3. Judges indicated conflicts of interest and what teams they have visited so we can be sure all teams are covered by sufficient judges.

Leave the judging process during the science fair and deliberation the same.

And — it worked! We’ll announce the winners and reflections on the process later.

The “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” Hackathon

Author’s note: I go to, organize, and facilitate a *lot* of hackathons, and while I’m thrilled about most of them as chances for people to learn and get involved in a field of research, I’m also fairly skeptical of them. So I’ve limited myself lately to events that can really make a difference, not only for the participants, but for the people who would benefit from the things they work on. Most recently, I’ve been doing events in Dar es Salaam with Taarifa and Geeks Without Bounds around water point mapping. I think this event has an opportunity for significant impact as well – this event especially in the arenas of health and gender equality. The following post was written by the hackathon team, of which I’m honored to nominally be a part.

Why Breastmilk and Breast Pumps?

Breast pumping is an experience many women dislike, yet it saves the lives of premature babies and permits working women to continue a nursing relationship with their babies. The health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are numerous, and include reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, female cancers, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Despite the overwhelming data and worldwide endorsement of breastfeeding for the first two years of life, many women do not breastfeed at all or wean after several months. In particular, low-income, working women are rarely able to take extended maternity leave, afford the cost of a pump, or pump breastmilk at their workplace. In emerging economies around the world, women who go back to work wean their babies rather than using a breast pump.

breastpump1

The breast pump is the rallying cry for the event because it is a symbol of a technology that could be better integrated into people’s everyday lives in order to save lives, save money, and lead to healthier and happier families. At the same time, our goal is to make space for innovation in family life more broadly, and to support a wide variety of different kinds of projects at the hackathon- and beyond.

This is the second of these events, with a writeup of the first here. Check out some challenge definitions and inspirations on the Tumblr, and join us if you can!

When: Saturday, September 20 & Sunday, September 21, 10am-6pm

Where: MIT Media Lab

Win! World-class judges will be giving cash prizes to the best ideas

Register Now (Registration is free but space is limited)

Bringing together parents, medical professionals, designers, policymakers, MIT students, and engineers to radically redesign the breast pump, as well as explore other innovations in maternal and pediatric health to improve the lives of families and children around the globe.

Our generous supporters of this event include Vecna TechnologiesMedela and Naia Health.

Presented by the MIT Media Lab with organizational support of iKatun.

Pre-Hackathon Movie Screening

Join us for a free public screening and discussion of Breastmilk: The Movie on Wednesday, September 10, at 7pm at MIT Bartos Theater, 20 Ames Street, Building E15, Lower Level, Cambridge, MA.

No RSVP required! Babies welcome.

Questions? Check out our website or contact us at breastpump-organizers@media.mit.edu.