All you need to know for an exciting and rewarding Hackathon. Reach out with questions, feedback or for support: info[at]opendata.ch.
What is an Opendata.ch Hackathon?
Build, test and improve – fast
Our Hackathons are like roundtables. But instead of talking about theoretical approaches to complex problems we already start collaborating and prototyping.
During two days, interdisciplinary teams collaboratively build data-driven prototypes to tackle real-life challenges. Thereby, we strengthen (open) data publication and usage as well as open and human-centered innovation for the common good in all kinds of sectors: e.g. GLAM/cultural heritage (since 2015), legal (since 2021), politics (2015), mobility (2012), media (since 2021), energy (since 2019) or farming (since 2020). Having organized and co-hosted dozens of Hackathons, we build and foster communities, tools, and skills to empower individuals and organizations.
What are the opportunities of a Hackathon?
- explore new approaches to solving challenges facing your organization
- foster innovation, collaboration (break up silos!) and a culture of openness in and across organizations
- foster (open) data publication and usage and join the journey to openness
- test and draw potential from a dataset and improve its quality
- get insights into new innovations, innovation processes and current challenges of a sector
- network with dedicated people from a given sector and beyond
- strengthen and stimulate your team
- improve the visibility of your organization to potential collaborators and scout potential employees
What are the elements of a Hackathon?
Challenges, People, Technology
For our Hackathons to be successful, we consider these elements to be essential:
- Challenges, a set of comprehensive descriptions of current issues, of what we want to build, improve or repair.
- People, those who are involved daily with challenges, and those who are willing to (help) solve them. Public administration, programmers, designers, activists, politicians, journalists and other interested parties are all invited to participate.
- Technology: The available data, information, technology related to a challenge, together with known requirements of the solution(s) (e.g. accessibility, security), as well as tools through which available resources are combined together to make use of new information, and to transform raw ideas into neatly designed concepts that respond to a challenge.
How do our Hackathons work?
Our Hackathons usually follow these steps:
A Hackathon can be preceded by one or multiple pre-events/workshops where the (potential) participants, challenge owners and other stakeholders are introduced to the concept of Hackathons (including Q&A) and/or create or refine Challenges for the Hackathon (usually with a Human Centered Design methodology). Our Hackathons usually start with opening remarks and important information on the program, venue, food, wifi, dribdat etc. Afterward, the challenge owners pitch their challenges to the participants in 2 – 5 minutes each (not more than 1 hour in total). After the last challenge presentation the participants can decide on which challenge they want to work on by seeking and talking to the challenge owners who are distributed in the room. The organizing team facilitates the team-building process. However, this often happens quite organically. As soon as a team is complete – we recommend 3 to max. 8 people – they can start working. Usually, there’s only one team tackling a specific challenge. At our Hackathons, collaboration trumps competition. Ideally, the challenge owner accompanies the team (but doesn’t lead it) during the Hackathon. The teams self-organize and independently work on their challenge during the two days. They can be supported by mentors. The first day is concluded by a check-out where the teams report learnings and failures back to the whole group. Usually, people can stay at the venue overnight and are provided free accommodation. On the second day, the teams can finish and document their projects and prepare for the final pitches. These can be public and/or live-streamed, usually have a short Q&A and are usually followed by a reception. The event usually ends with an informal get-together of the participants where they can exchange ideas and ask each other further questions.
We want everyone to feel safe during a Hackathon. That’s why all attendees, sponsors, partners, volunteers and staff at our Hackathon are required to agree with the Hack Code of Conduct. We will enforce this code throughout the event.
Why should you attend our Hackathons?
We want to bring people together who can actively tackle challenges. There’s a very common misconception that Hackathons are only for hackers, for techies, developers, nerds or in general for people with a big technical know-how.
While such profiles are important to tackle challenges and build solutions quickly, we need more than that: We need people bringing domain knowledge, we need people sharing their challenges, we need people with a problem-solving attitude and willing to learn.
Having relevant stakeholders like users and providers present helps tackle the challenge. Don’t hesitate inviting them or let us know should you need any support.
At the beginning of the Hackathon these talents will be combined in different projects and will work together in teams, to create, test and improve prototypes. It shows time and again: a good toolbox, high diversity and a hard deadline are an excellent innovation recipe.
What role can you have at a Hackathon?
At our Hackathons there are different roles. One person can have multiple roles/hats.
Formulate and share a challenge. Pitch your challenge during the Hackathon’s launch. At the beginning, stay with the project teams who decided to tackle the challenges you formulated. Be available to answer possible follow-up questions. Support communications internally (it is great if employees take part!) and externally via your own communication and professional networks.
Help solving one or more challenges. Let us know your specialties (design or tech expertise, domain knowledge, other skills), and what role and learning opportunities you seek. Important: Tech-expertise (e.g. API, Data Science) is welcome, but not a prerequisite.
Share your (tech-)expertise and support multiple teams. We will get in touch to explain how to mentor during this Hackathon. Tech-expertise in such fields is welcome: API, data analysis, web,…
When attending our Hackathons every participant will be able to pick a challenge. This information, together with some more information about their particular skill, experience of each participant, will help the organising team before and during the teambuilding phase, that is putting together effective and thriving project groups, maximizing the appeal and fun-factor of the Hackathon.
What makes for a (good) Challenge?
We want to work on real problems and ideas. These should be formulated as “Challenges”. Challenges stand at the core of our Hackathons. They are like sparks that ignite projects. Challenges can be of different types and put a range of deliverables in focus:
- an interesting technological challenge
- an organisational challenge, related to social or cultural issues, even those you may not even think at first glance are addressed with technology
- a global challenge that we are dealing with as a society (e.g. linked to Sustainable Development Goals)
- an ongoing project, struggling to deliver or that may benefit from external support, user input and feedback
- an issue or need articulated by users or stakeholders, which needs to be further understood together with others
- …an intriguing idea of some other kind that needs to see the light of day
Form – Tell a story
Good form is, however, dramatically important to launch effective projects:
- Pains: Why is the challenge… a challenge? What’s the need or problem? For whom? In which situation?
- Impact: What would it mean i.e. what would be different if the challenge could be addressed, or what will happen if the challenge is not addressed
- Goal: What is your goal for the Hackathon? (expected outcome)
- Small enough: Package small challenges that can be translated into a manageable set of actions. E.g.: «The public sector should improve its API is, probably, too generic.»
- Context: Who are the stakeholders? What are the restrictions?
- History & context: Share a little bit of history about which solutions were already tried.
… and of course, leave room for creativity. Formulate rather open, tricky challenges. Not a clearly defined ‘patch’ that you could actually commission to a programming company. The participants choose their own path around your challenge – trust the process!
Keep in mind that it can always happen that a challenge is not selected to work on: each participant is free to decide on which challenge(s) they want to work on, and they may also change their mind and switch tracks. This does not mean that a challenge is not relevant: every open challenge gets archived and can be proposed again at a later Hackathon.
What’s an example for a (good) Challenge?
The Challenge “Dashboard electric car charging stations” was presented at our GovTech Hackathon in 2023, where this challenge aimed to develop a dashboard to monitor electricity consumption and usage at electric vehicle charging stations in Switzerland. On the respective challenge/project page, you can find more information on the challenge such as the pitch, final presentation or description. Under hack.opendata.ch – the central platform for Opendata.ch Hackathons – you can find challenges from past Hackathons.
What data/resources are needed for a (good) Challenge?
We gather data, knowledge and tools to empower people. Accessible, complete and comprehensible data and interfaces are essential for innovation, but even more so at Hackathons. What Data?
- If you can, open. Open data and open APIs are the most efficient and powerful way to enable collaboration. E.g. handbook.opendata.swiss provides a walkthrough on how to open data.
- To determine whether data can be made open or not is the responsibility of the data owner, who interprets the legal framework related to these data. If the data cannot be made fully open due to legal constraints, you could still make them available for a limited amount of time or for a specific group of users.
- We recommend the frictionless data packaging standard and are thankful for your readiness to help us preparing the relevant sets accordingly.
In consultation with the event organizing team, well founded exceptions to these rules are possible. Reach out to info[at]opendata.ch if you need any help making your data available at the Hackathon.
Checklist for a successful Challenge
- Accessibility of third-party resources: Are the data, APIs, etc. of third parties that you need to tackle the challenge accessible within the Hackathon? We recommend that you make the appropriate assessment in advance of the Hackathon and, if necessary, get in touch with the data owners. If possible, link the available data sources on your respective project page on our hack platform. We are happy to provide support (info[at]opendata.ch).
- Scope: Is the challenge doable in the (short) time? Have I set the right focus: core of the problem, “creative” approaches, prototyping instead of “execution work”?
- Repository and communication: Propose a repository and communication channel for the team (e.g. both on Git(Hub)).
- Challenge Owner Presence: Ideally, the challenge owner (or a proxy) is on-site during the whole Hackathon and accompanies the team (occasional calls or similar are of course no problem). If this is not possible, he/she or the proxy must at least present the Challenge on-site and be available afterward on-site or by phone (give them your number) for questions about the challenge or the resources.
- Sustainability: What happens to the results after the Hackathon? How do we integrate the results of the project into our organization and what constraints are there that the team has to take into account during the Hackathon to enable this? Do we have (financial and human) resources to internally support the project? (How) can we involve the participants beyond the Hackathon? This will also motivate the participants to choose your challenge.
- Expectation management: It’s possible that your challenge will not be picked by a team. In that specific case, as frustrating as it might be, we still encourage you to stay at the Hackathon and work with (or mentor) other teams, for the insights about innovation and for the networking, but also because oftentimes, if you are actively involved, two rather similar challenges can turn in one project with synergies. And if not, we can tackle it next time!
How to present a challenge to the participants?
Upload your slides to dribdat and and use the platform as a visual support. For the challenge pitch, we suggest the following structure:
- What is the need or problem? For whom?
- What resources are (not) available (input)?
- What is your goal for the Hackathon?
- What would be different if the problem was solved?
- What are the approaches to solving the problem? Which ones have you already tried?
- What are the limitations? What do you have to pay attention to?
- What happens with the results of the Hackathon?
- Contact details
- Competencies: Which ones are already present in the team? Which ones do you still need or who are you looking for?
Which platform do we run our Hackathons on?
dribdat (originally from “Driven By Data”) is an open source (MIT licensed) web application, featuring an ideation and challenge board to help organize short sprints, co-creative sessions, hackdays and open Hackathons with batteries included.
Learn how to use dribdat here: https://dribdat.cc/usage.
If you want to host a Hackathon, you can also self-host dribdat. If you need support with setting up, please contact info[at]opendata.ch.
How do you work on our platform? Dribdat 1×1
- Login and join project (Join)
- Document progress, upload data and screenshots (Post)
- Comments (Feedback & Questions about the project)
- Announcements (Important notifications from organisation team)
- Prepare slides/demo for final presentations (Edit & Sync)
How do you present your project at the end of the Hackathon?
Upload your slides and/or screen recording to dribdat. For your final pitch, we suggest the following structure:
- What was the challenge i.e. the problem you were trying to solve
- How did you attempt to solve it?
- What roadblocks did you encounter?
- What was the result? (Demo)
- What are the next steps?
What happens to the results of the Hackathon?
The following conditions apply to works created at our Hackathons:
No transfer of rights | everyone retains the rights to anything he or she has created. It is up to the Hackathon teams to collaborate with challenge owners to continue their work.
Waiver | No one will exercise any rights of exclusivity with respect to information he brings in, even if he otherwise could exercise such right of exclusivity under the law.
Open-Source | All participants are required to submit results (Pitch, Prototype code co-developed with the team, Images – not the entire extent of the solution stack) produced under a recognized open source license (opensource.org).
Courtesy | Give credits. Ask if you can, but by default assume to include all those who have somehow contributed to the project.
Publication | We require teams to publish the insights and results of the Hackathon openly.
In consultation with the event organizing team, well-founded exceptions to these rules are possible.
You can find further guides and handbooks here.