Hackathons are a great way to collaborate with a team of various talents to achieve a specific goal. They are not marathons, but rather sprints: 48 or—in this regard—16 hours to come up with a working  prototype is not that much. Thus, in order to win, you need to know where and how you are running to. Some training beforehand along with a pair of special shoes will do too…

Hackathons are a great tool, no doubt. And yet, they have become so popular that our expectations have gotten a bit out of hand, Chris Worman explains it well in his post for coders coming to the Central Open Data Hackathon. Because the truth is, hackathons can be a very disappointing experience if you come unprepared. So, if you don’t want to ruin your weekend, go through this checklist and get ready.

  1. Define the social problem you are trying to solve with the expected technology tools. Try to break your goal into little, actionable, pieces. What exactly do you want to do? What is the specific change you want people to make? Be as specific as possible.
  2. Why use technology? Are you sure this is the best way to address the issue?  Do you need help in defining what you want to achieve in a reasonably tech-friendly way? Ask mentors to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As they say, there are no stupid ones.
  3. Do a little research: has anyone already done something similar? Do not waste time reinventing the wheel, but think about whether or not the similar solution corresponds with your needs and possibilities.
  4. If you are planning to come up with an app/product to be used by people from the outside of your organization, think about what would inspire them use your product. Will they use it? What kind of interaction will it create?
  5. Make sure you know what you are bringing to the table (which form of expertise or what data sets, in which form etc.) and let people know in advance. The most you share and agree on upfront, the more time you can spend actually working during the hackathon itself.
  6. Think about the future. What can be done within 48 or, like this time, 16 hours? Will you need help in implementing the solution afterwards? Map possible outcomes.
  7. Hackathons are a cool frame for teamwork, so be ready to collaborate and co create with people that you don’t usually work with. Share your knowledge and try being open, flexible and transparent – the others bring specific tech skills to the table that might more your idea in new and powerful ways.
  8. Last but NOT least, check out the hackathon official website: http://ceehack.org/. See who is coming, check out what similar projects have been created during hackathons and get inspired by different sorts of app your product could be modeled after. Remember to add your bit: share the goals, describe your expertise and expectations.

All in all, if you have an idea and if you are ready to challenge the way you usually work, then this is it. Even if you don’t change the world with this app, you will learn and you will enjoy. For a hackathon can be a great way to spend your weekend!

Alicja Peszkowska is an activist, a photoblogger who loves culture and believes in collectivism. Alicja is the organizer of NetWtorek meetups and SocHack social hackathons. Alicja works in TechSoup foundation where she coordinates international projects focused on technologies and social innovations.