10 Tips on How To Organize A Successful Hackathon
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Tatjana Humphries, co-director at Bath:Hacked, which has just held its fifth hack event in conjunction with Bath Digital Festival 2016, celebrating the region’s thriving digital sectors. Here are her top tips for running a successful hackathon.
1. Why are you hacking? This may seem like a simple question but it’s one you have to be prepared to answer. Private companies often run hack events as part of recruitment drives, which is fine; but it does need to be acknowledged. And the same goes for Bath: Hacked, we’ve held hacks for a variety of different reasons, but the common factor of all of them was the data. We had new datasets to share and most importantly there was a community need and demand.
2. Choose your venue wisely. So far we have held all of our hacks at The Guild, Bath’s first co-working space. It’s important to make sure your venue has the following:
a) Space to hack. On average we can have between 30-60 hackers, you need to make sure there is space for them to work collaboratively and also work alone. You also need dedicated space for lunch and presentations.
b) 24/7 access. We hold both day hacks and 48hr events so it’s key people can come and go as they please.
c) Superfast WiFi. There is no point holding an event anywhere if people can’t access the Internet. It’s even better if a venue can provide you with your own Service Set Identifier (SSID) (tip: don’t use the word ‘hack’ in the network name).
d) A safe space. You’ll need a space that feels friendly and ‘speaks’ to the kind of people coming along. It needs to feel relaxed so people don’t feel like they are at the office, but it also needs to have elements of an office structure – hotels don’t work well, for example.
3. Who is going to pay? This needs to be worked out before you even choose a date. If you can run a hack for free then great, but we’ve found that hacks of all shapes and sizes will carry a fee – venue, food, drink, prizes, Internet, advertising (eg. Meetup)…. Once you determine the cost of the hack you can start looking for sponsorship and from there you can work out how many can attend, and what you can provide in way of prizes and food.
4. Food and drink. See above. We always provide food at our hacks – at the last hack we provided bagels from a local independent retailer at lunch and an independent spirit store for beers, ales and ciders, all from local breweries.
5. Prizes. See point 3. Bath: Hacked prefers fun prizes – stickers, event vouchers, drones or GitHub usage rather than cash. At our most recent hack, prizes included: a box at Bath Rugby, tickets to WOMAD & Smashing Conference, plus vouchers for web workshops. However, a lot of hack groups do offer cash prizes up to £3,000 (approx. $4,300) depending on the project. The amount of cash offered should come down to what you are expecting people to produce in the time you have allowed.
6. Getting people to come. Experience has taught us one thing: getting people to come to the first event is easy, it’s when you market the second that it gets tricky. We use Meetup, as we hold a variety of events and it allows our members to stay connected, but you can’t rely on it. To promote the hacks we do a big social media drive, including data updates. We also hold steering and data nights leading up to the event. It’s also good to see if the venue you are using will help promote your event too. We tend to find that you get a rush of sign ups a few days before the event, and on average you’ll also get a 10 percent drop off in attendance.
7. Organization. With events such as these when people are volunteering its key to work out who is doing what. We hold regular steering group meetings to work out who is responsible for what, what time they need to do this and what they will be doing on the day. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s best to plan.
8. Communication. Don’t wait until a meetup or a hack to raise something, make sure the organisation team keep in touch with one another. We use messaging app Slack for Bath: Hacked.
9. Create connections. Hacks can often be intimidating; people with different levels of experience will be in attendance. At each hack we always make sure we hold an hour of networking at the start, before going round the room asking people for their name, and what data they are looking at. As organizers, this gives us a clue on what the ‘hot topics’ are, but for those at the hack it means they can see if others are working on similar projects, or have skill sets they need; as a result, you’ll see new teams forming on the day, which often leads to more successful projects.
10. and finally…take a breath and have fun! The main thing at a hack is that people get to play around with the data and that there is engagement. It would be great to say you’re going to see an amazing app be developed at one of these events, but the likelihood is that these will be early stage developments. So don’t expect to get a solution to a problem on day one.
Bath:Hacked’s latest hack event focused on the environment, where participants were challenged to come up with new ‘open data-inspired’ concepts offering a community benefit. The event was held in a week when Tech City UK’s Tech Nation 2016 report revealed that the Bristol and Bath region is home to the most productive digital tech cluster in the UK – ahead of London, with 81 percent of local businesses citing access to local networks, such as Bath:Hacked, as a key benefit of the cluster.