Caution, new word here: Hack-a-thon. The word describes one or two day gatherings of coders and non-coders to come up with new ideas. Following the nice notion of „demo, don‘t memo“ a Hackathon aims to produce clickable demonstrators in just two days.

The team from DW Innovation recently took part in such an event in Hamburg at the media conference Scoopcamp in early September 2013. Organized by German news agency dpa several teams focused on coming up with innovative approaches and working code examples in very short time.

Being a new, modern form of idea generation Hackathons are interesting and often surprisingly productive. Working together in such an intense, creative and focused way addresses a growing need in many organizations. These events help to develop new projects that involve code quicker than in the past. Even if the sole output is that the grand idea is not so grand after all. Hackathons take all the risk, so if a novel approach does not really work, the principle “to fail fast” clears the way to try it differently next time.

Though, some things have to be considered when planning such a venture. Without some basic planning and structuring, there is no output. Here are the most important tips:

  1. Communicate clearly that a Hackathon is not for coders only. Instead one key idea is to bring together editors, developers, planners, project managers and all kinds of other occupations in one room and let them explore for eight or sixteen hours straight.
  2. Don‘t plan for output, plan for answers to questions.
  3. Ask why, not what: As a great article by Miguel Paz on the Mediashift Idealab points out: Don‘t start with what, instead start with the key question „why?“ As in: Why would users want a different type of news website? Why would a new approach to services better? Asking lot‘s of questions instead of pre-assuming the right answer is potentially the best part of a Hackathon.

Link: Scoopcamp Hamburg

Picture credit: Via Flickr, by HackNY