Participatory methods



A “hackathon”, (composition from “hacking” + “marathon”), is a participatory activity of short duration, where people come together to solve some particular real life problems (challenges), in a friendly and fairly competition.  It provides a space and a time for participants to make progress on problems, they are interested in and an opportunity to learn about specific topics (subject of the hack). Training workshops/lectures are a great parallel track especially for newcomers and for all participants.

“Hacking” is a creative problem solving, overcoming the common rules established (innovation process), with a short but incessant effort (2-3 days, nights included). The problem field could be less/more challenging in relation to the innovation target and not necessarily involving technology (but in  most  cases technology is one of the enablers  for participants). The activity is typically made through the involvement, physically and/or virtually, of many quite skilled participants (“hackers”) that could be students, professionals, researchers.

This kind of event has a threefold aim: to strengthen the community involved, attracting and welcoming newcomers, providing an opportunity for participants to learn something new.

Well suited to generate momentum around innovation resources available, for fast development and real demonstration of services/product ideas.

It could be organized in a physical setup, in a 2-3 days for a maximum of 100 participants, as well in a virtual setup, enabling the possibility to reach larger number of participants and different geographic location (for this purpose, it could useful to organize also a multi-site hackathon that involve different cities at the same time).



It is possible to involve as many participants as you want, but it is important to consider also the logistics, the involved costs and the final participant experience, as well as the output results that are constituted, by the innovation ideas presented  and developed. Upon experience, around 40 participants, is a very good number. A 100-150 is a great number, but could be quite complicating to manage the overall process and requires more staff and budget.

Participants typically form groups of  3-5 individuals, take out their laptops (if the event is technology themed) and dive into problems with enthusiasm, competing “playfully” between them.

The hack is a contamination opportunity and participants are engaged by a facilitator and by a team of tutors as well as judged by a jury of experts. Interested visitors are welcomed to the event, to create momentum around the most important moments of the competition.

It is crucial to involve participants that are enthusiast to participate to the hack. It depends from the field, but variety is important. In order to develop good proof of concept (PoC), it is important to attract developers, graphic designers, interface and usability designers, along with subject matter experts in a collective effort to think differently about the challenge/problem focused.



Running a good hackathon is costly: rooms, foods, beverage, and the prizes are the minimum resources required.  A professional hackathon, for about 50-60 participants costs about 10k€ overall. Part or the entire cost could be covered by local partners and sponsors. In general, it requires the following resources:

  • Management: Establishment of an organizational committee that is representatives of several different regional stakeholders and define a leader partner that is able to manage the hackathon project as lead partner (could be an association that is sharing the same target groups of the hackathon)
  • Sponsorship & Prizes: Find available sponsors (from stakeholders group and local business) and define if the event could be free for participants. Involve sponsors for prizes (that are important to stimulate participation). Prizes could be certified training courses, shopping tickets, gadgets and devices, up to travels to important University Campus.
  • An adequate place to run the hackathon: large open space, 1-2 side rooms, a place for the catering and if possible also a place where participants could rest a little bit, tables and chairs (not fixed to the ground), a lot of power plugs.
  • Connectivity: A large bandwidth and a professional Wi-Fi able to provide large bandwidth to all participants without any issues, reliable 24x7.


The process to organize and execute a successfully hackathon could slightly change in relation to its duration in time, type and matter of problems/challenges focused and target groups involved.

It is important to point out that it is difficult to solve completely problems/challenges by the end of the hackathon. It is normal, real life problem are complex and  could not be addressed in few days only, but an operational PoC (Proof of Concept) could be made by brilliant teams, and provide innovative application of knowledge and technologies available in real cases. These PoCs could be perhaps evolved in the weeks after the hackathon, by some off line activities,  or by the direct interest of stakeholders.  The hackathon is usually just one action on a longer list of actions required to address a larger problem (e.g. innovate through digitalization the public administration), but could be even a training session to prepare participants for solving problems or create innovation in certain field.

In general it requires the following resources:

  • Define the objective and target groups of the hackathon
  • Establish an organizational committee that is representatives of several different regional stakeholders and define a leader partner that is able to manage the hackathon project as lead partner (could be an association that is sharing the same target groups of the hackathon)
  • Find available sponsors (from stakeholders group and local business) and define if the event could be free for participants;
  • Define tasks, responsibilities and duties, and so the budget required and how it will be covered.


The event requires a main facilitator and a team of tutors. The main facilitator is front ending the participants, explaining in a detailed way the agenda of the hackathon and keeping the time in order, to be in schedule and also keeps it aligned with other hackathons running in other geographical places (in case of a multi-site hackathon).


It is important to define a  purpose of the hackathon. Should be challenging but also feasible in a 2-3 days effort  and/or with a longer effort. The hackathon is a very powerful instrument to broadly test newly resources made available, like new datasets published in open data, or new software released by a specific project (e.g a public software platform that could enable innovation) or a freely available resource that is not used yet a lot (e.g. chatbot development framework), or focusing an entire scientific field where there is potential (e.g. data, software and methods that could address climate change). Even if the resource available focused could be different, purpose of the hackathon is always to enable a nice situation where it is possible the creation of PoC and conceptual solutions made available for everyone (so results should be open sourced if possible).


It is crucial to define the timeline of the event.  Communication planning is fundamental to gather participant and to create momentum around the event. At least 1 month before the event, the draft challenges/problems should be published with all the other organization details on the hackathon website, in order to provide to the potential participants enough time to evaluate, if they are skilled and almost prepared to make great contributions. The logistics has to be considered. Groups of about 3-5 individuals need a table with chairs, several power plugs and a powerful wireless connection, better faster than slower, able to support all participants jointly (a simple home Wi-Fi router is not enough and could be really frustrating for participants). A basic timeline for a generic hackathon is provide hereafter (

hachathon planning timeline


  • A web site, in the form at least of a wiki page should be setup before to send out invitation.
  • A draft list of challenges/problems list that are the topic of the hackathon should be defined also before.
  • Do not make the list closed, could change and participants could propose related-challenges that could be of interest.


Invitation should be managed by email, but it is important to a have a direct contact with the communities involved and stakeholders, explaining directly the aim of the hackathon, the opportunity for them to show up and doing it, etc.


The hackathon is a participatory innovation method, aiming also to create an environment where it is possible not only to innovate with hard work but also to meet new persons, discover new things, have fun in the “geek style”.

It is important to create an environment that is colorful and friendly, where participants easily break the ice between them and to transform the event in a unique experience, so plan also the user experience of the hackathon attendance. 

Posters, banners, small lights and couches in the open space where the hackathon is run are useful. Facilitators should take opportunity of the daily moments (e.g.  when light goes down ) to also deploy some artifacts that could be appreciated by the audience (braking a little bit the heavy work atmosphere).

Food and beverage are also important. Having something ready to eat or drink even in the middle of the night give a good feedback to the participants, give opportunity to discuss about issues also at 3am in the morning , it create a time-suspension effect  that improve the uniqueness of the event

Someone from the organization team that is shooting photos and videos about the participants is also very useful, not only to create materials/medias for communicate the event, but also to make feel  the participants in the centre of the attention, like in a show



The hackathon could be organized differently and having different results considering two different timeline that could be associated with prize and communication.

  • Fast Rabbit: designed to enhance the projects that are completed during the 2-3 days of the hack
  • Wise Turtle: the second is designed to enhance the teams that choose to continue developing in the weeks following hackathon, to undertake more complex projects without constraint them in the 2-3 days of the hack (1 months is a common time frame)

The main phases of the realization of an hackathon are:

Step 1:  Planning (do we have the resources? Rules and format)

Step 2:  Execution  (definition of challenges, target groups communication)

Step 3: Confirmation (secure the minimum number of participants)

Step 4: make the Hackathon (2 Days,  1 Night)

  • Day 1 – 9:00 Opening of the event, presentation of the rules of the game
  • Day 1 – 9:30 Teams constitution
  • Day 1 – 10:30 Start of activities
  • Day 2 – 16:00 Delivery of results
  • Day 2 – 16:30 Presentation Pitch (5 min each)
  • Day 2 – 18:00 Selection of winners completed
  • Day 2 – 18:30 Prize Award

Step 5: Follow up



The hackathon is all about open innovation. So everything should be documented with photos, videos, in particular shooting also small interview to participants, that could in that way explain why they enjoyed to stay there (to attract other participants for future hacks).

For any kind of hackathon, not only for the technologically focused one, there are several freely available platform of the web, that could be used to share results and make communication in easy and effective ways:

  • Github: to share source code, but also documents developed for the hack through the setup of a dedicated Wiki section
  • Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: to share photos/videos
  • Slack: to share structured documents and setup discussion about specific topics.


  • Plan the hack with the aim to make something unique, with some peculiar details that could distinct the hack among all the other hacks (even if not directly related with the main hack, but more glamorous or attractive, or connect the hack with bigger dimension)
  • Involve genuinely the civil society through local associations, SMEs and Cooperation
  • Open event to citizens even if just as observers or simply as a curious spectator.
  • Build momentum and assess/explain skills required to participants with preliminary training sessions
  • Secure the involvement of stakeholders, potential customers and SMEs that could be interested to the solutions developed by the hack in order to maximize the impacts
  • Using massively Social media like Twitter/Instagram during the event is a key element to create momentum between participants (engage participants with tweet, play and engage facilitators and fix moments with photos and tweets). Define an appropriate hashtag for the event (before, during, after) and make it using it!