Most of you are probably familiar with the ‘traditional’ concept of a hackathon (above) – a process where in simple terms, a group of computer programmers or coders get together and come up with a tech-based solution to a problem. As the name suggests, a social hackathon is not that different, only with more focus on the ideas part and less/no emphasis on the coding computer stuff. Most significantly, what distinguishes a social hackathon is the nature of the problem statement itself, which tends to be rooted in a social, political or economic context.
To illustrate this, here’s an excellent example I was given to help me understand the process better, focused on finding ways to improve migrants’ chances of integrating into society . A key obstruction to the integration of migrants is lack of education and awareness more broadly amongst the rest of society, of the obstacles and challenges migrants and asylum seekers have to face journeying from their home countries to their destinations.
A light hearted means to inform people about these challenges could be to design a game of snakes and ladders, where you have to get from 0 – 100, with 0 representing the beginning of an asylum seeker/migrant’s journey, and 100 being ‘full’ integration into a new society. Ladders would reflect positive policy decisions, community projects and anything else that facilitates or speeds up their experience. Snakes on the other hand, are ineffective policies or country agreements (such as the EU Turkey deal), or racist/xenophobic barriers put up by a host community. In this way, it might mean that for every metaphorical three steps forward you take, you are forced two steps back, thus highlighting to those playing the frustrations and difficulties faced.
As an outcome of your hackathon could you come up with a game that could build awareness of the reality that migrants face? Or a way to make people feel more welcome in your community? Think big!
The process we identified to guide you is :
- Identify a problem e.g. how do we promote integration and create a welcoming society for migrants?
- Get together a group of collaborators with a shared ambition and hopefully a range of skills and experience. Get together as much relevant information as possible and involve people who have personal experience of this challenge, such as migrants in this case, if possible.
- Give people the chance to decide how they want to work to tackle the problem. Alone? In pairs? As a group? Letting people work in the way that best allows them to be creative is what you are looking for.
- Create a sharing environment if you are working in groups. Make sure everyone has the chance to speak up and be heard and be aware if some people don’t speak the dominant language well.
- Share ideas. Ask questions. Constructively pick them apart, test them and rebuild. Ask more questions.
- Present to the wider group so that they can also ask questions, critique and give you the chance to strengthen your ideas.
- Taking it forward: If you believe in your solution, make it happen! Who can you share this with? Can you run with your idea already? Who could support you?
Hopefully this serves as a helpful introduction to how a social hackathon is used to brainstorm ideas and produce solutions to social issues. The beauty of it is that there are very few rules and boundaries. You could come up with an app or a game like I’ve mentioned here or go further afield – perhaps a community project or even a proposal for a new government policy.
We’d love to know what you come up with, so please do share with us anything generated in your own social hackathons! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.