Yackathon Summary

by Max Liboiron

The group was pleasantly diverse, even while a lot of people already seemed to know one another. The day was divided into an information introduction and discussion from 12-2 (which started at 12:30 due to technical difficulties), and a slightly more structured discussion from 2-5. We started the second portion by breaking into three groups to think of questions for the two “panels,” the first on the methodologies and practices of hackathons, and the second on the civic role of hackathons. We put the questions on post it notes, along with themes gleaned from the Meet Up invite (disaster capitalism, hackathons as civic spaces, etc). We then regrouped to discuss the topics, sometimes turning to the post it notes for reference.



Hackathons, Pedagogy, and Development

Some participants were interested in hackathons as teaching tools or instances, and felt that there is an implicit pedagogy already present, but wanted to look into making that aspect explicit.



There were two different definitions of “civic.” One was apolitical, and saw hackathons as something to weak civic (i.e. urban) infrastructure. That view was not as popular as the other expressed, which is that civic refers to activism from the civilian level.

The idea that hackathons should produce tools useful for change lead to the idea of problem-specific events, where an issue, based on community members’ or activists’ stated needs and problems, vs “cool toys” that need uses.

Part of this discussion was a data commons, where data isn’t just broadcasted, but platforms can be added to via crowdsourced data (like citizen science model).

This lead to discussions about public vs protected data and access, and the sometimes lack of good data policy in hackathons because of their ad hoc nature.


What are hackathons for

Stemming from the commitment for creating change, we spoke a lot about what hackathons could actually “do” for activists and change– compared to just making visualizations about injustice, etc, how can they work to deal with injustice itself.

– One idea was that creating data is a political act in itself- what gets counted and how data is used can be activist

– there were some ideas about making reusable abstract best practices rather than specific tools (the case study was Occupy Sandy and what to do to prepare for the next disaster– since we have no idea in advance as to the particular conditions–will there be electricity, will canvassers know google docs– a general overview of what ought to be included in a canvas data collection survey would be better than an app or template that is less flexible).

The idea that hackathons are more about togetherness and less about community– more about weak bonds and the diversity and creativity they engender, versus strong bonds like an ongoing working group might have. These weak bonds are seen as a boon to a hackathon ethos.


Best practices of collaboration in heterogeneous spaces, including but not limited to hackathons:

– have organized interactions and roles (i.e., speed dating for getting different people into conversations)

– have a translator/boundary person who can represent two (or more) different groups (such as tech people vs project people), translate between them, etc

– state or come up with ground rules: structure, etiquette, schedule, expectation etc, ahead of time so everyone is on same page

– have teach-ins, skill shares, or other structured pedagogy during or before the hackathon– this can help with the tech skill bottle neck that often happens

– do work in smaller break out groups/working groups

– be issue/problem driven for shared problem, ethos or methods

– have people working together for a purpose, together– working methods matter more in a heterogenous group

Resources that Came up:

  • Kicking Corporate Booty (resources for change)
  • Socrata –open data guide
  • GWOB.org (geeks without borders- geeks for humanitarian efforts)
  • Civic media lab at MIT
  • Hack and Jill best practices
  • Hack day manifesto (best practices)
  • peoples Skype (General Assembly app)
  • femnettech
  • Data Anywhere (data commons)

Max Liboiron
Dept of Media, Culture and Communication
Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing
New York University

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