For many people in workforce development, "hacking" is when someone breaks into a computer's hard drive to steal information or to plant a virus.
But there's another way that the term is used--to describe an effective solution to a problem. We have "life-hacks," which are productivity fixes to make your life go more smoothly. And many companies are sponsoring "hackathons," where they bring together a bunch of programmers for a short period of time--24-48 hours, usually--and task them with finding a software solution to specific problems.
- Indianapolis is sponsoring an IndyCivic Hackathon where they are inviting programmers in to propose and develop applications using public data that can solve community problems.
- Minneapolis ran the Visualizing Neighborhoods Hackathon to get people working on developing a range of projects from visualizing bus routes in relationship to population density, to imagining a visualization that shows job growth on the Central Corridor.
- The Tech for Justice Hackathon will bring together lawyers, public and private justice organizations and developers to develop solutions to address access to justice resources through technology.
Some challenges include a cash or other kind of prize for the winners, while others rely on the fact that a lot of tech folks get great satisfaction simply from using their skills to create something cool. Hackathons are also great places for people to meet, network and develop collaborative partnerships that go beyond the events of the day.
Hackathons for Workforce Development
The idea of a Hackathon could easily be applied to the workforce development field. Local WIBs or a coalition of WIBs and other nonprofit agencies could bring together employers, job seekers, American Job Center and WIB staff, other stakeholder staff and the technology community to help forge tech solutions to some of our challenges. Maybe do one event that focuses on job seekers and how tech could help them with their careers and job search and another day that focuses on HR and recruitment and what employers need.
Hackathons can also be done entirely online (no in-person event) or go beyond technology solutions. For example, on OpenIdeo organizations can post challenges like "How can we make low-income urban areas safer and more empowering for women?" People can post their ideas for addressing these issues and sponsors can select solutions to implement or work on further.
This is all part of the ethos of open innovation or crowd-sourcing, where you bring together people from different disciplines and fields and invite them to work together on big problems. Major companies and organizations are getting great results from these strategies through sites like InnoCentive. They've found that they can quickly surface surprising solutions to problems that they've spent years working on when they bring people together who have different ideas and assumptions about what does and doesn't work and when different problem-solving processes are used.
As we continue to try to "do more with less," and to deal with some difficult workforce dilemmas, these are the kinds of strategies we should be exploring and implementing to continue innovating and adapting to our uncertain economy. We don't have all the answers, so if we open things up and invite in more people to work with us in identifying and resolving some of our challenges, we could go a lot further with our work.
If you're interested in further exploring the Hackathon idea, here are some resources to get you started:
- Why You Should Probably Host a Hackathon--Fast Company looks at the many reasons to sponsor a Hackathon. This could be a great collaboration with businesses in your community.
- 8 Best Practices for Running a Successful Hackathon--The second tip is that organizing around a good cause energizes and inspires people to bring their best to the event.
- How to Run a Hackathon--some step-by-step advice on everything from organizing to setting your agenda, selecting judges and marketing your event.
- How to Run a Civic Hacking Event-Civic hacking is a term used to describe activities that lead to civic innovation and includes activities like building apps that help educate about or solve civic problems, working withopen government data, and helping to teach digital skills. This is a complete how-to guide.
- How to Bring the Art of the Creative Blitz into Your Hackathon--Some useful tips from other types of creative events that could be useful in planning.
- How to Organize a Successful Hackathon--Some good links in this post.
- ChallengePost--The largest listing of hackathons and online challenges anywhere. You can see examples of other Hackathons as well as post your own here for free.