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Research Reflections: Digital Innovation: The Hackathon Phenomenon
Innovation with digital technologies continues to emerge, but there are increasing efforts to help ‘nurture’ such innovation. However, large structured projects are giving way to short prototyping activities called hackathons. These hackathons are more encouraging of creativity by being challenge-orientated. A hackathon (also known as a hackfest or hack day) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development (interface designers, graphic designers, project managers, etc) collaborate intensively over a short period of time (anything from 24 hours to 7 days) on software projects. From holding large numbers of these events, the ‘hackathon phenomenon’ has emerged as an effective approach to innovation with digital technologies in a large range of different spaces (music, open data, fashion, academia, and more).
The phenomenon of hackathons has arisen from their growing global occurrence, having developed from their origins as impromptu pizza parties to professionally organised, corporate sponsored events. The effectiveness of the hackathon phenomenon for digital innovation stems from invested participation and sustainable innovation. Changing participation from volunteerism to invested participation is generally achieved by focusing on issues of significance to the hackathon (e.g. social issues of concern in open government, or specific issues relevant to a Culture Hack); and/or the provision of an award or prize which adds a competitive element to encourage individual investment for personal gain. The provision of a prize (often sponsorship for further development) potentially achieves the application of more resources to a challenge than the prize could fund directly, while the relaxed organisational structure encourages participants to innovate.
The relative ease of hosting such hackathons has allowed for many events to be held, and therefore for a range of expertise, experience and skills to be applied to a range of different spaces. There is an average of one hackathon a week in London, with hosts ranging from government departments (e.g. Hack the Government) to businesses (e.g. Cadbury), as well as cultural institutions (e.g. Hack the Barbican) and research networks (e.g. RCUK). The rise of the hackathon phenomenon is not yet fully understood, but may arise in part from it being an effective form of innovation under austerity. This would also help to explain the even greater growth of hackathons in parts of the developing world (e.g. Brazil, India, etc).
Some upcoming London hackathons details here: http://www.meetup.com/UK-Hackathons-and-Jams/
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Author: Gerard Briscoe, Creativeworks London
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