Written by Thomas Gegenhuber
Germany’s first government-hosted crisis hackathon offers seven lessons on how to make the most of a messy-but-promising way to kick-start social innovation.
The inability of societal institutions to cope with a crisis warrants experimenting with a social innovation approach that rapidly brings together government, civil society, and the private sector. When civilian tech companies and organizations recently proposed an online hackathon to find solutions to the COVID-19 crisis, German politicians seized the opportunity and, within days, launched Germany’s first government-hosted crisis hackathon: #WeVsVirus, or #WirVsVirus in German. The effort not only produced viable and useful technical solutions, but also empowered thousands of participants to take action, learn, and create alongside others.
Hackathons are a novel organizing practice that have proven their worth in many different fields. They provide a dynamic, flexible setting, based largely on self-organization, in which creativity can flourish. Participants typically meet up in a physical space, form teams, and focus on solving a specific technical problem for a set amount of time. Hackathons are also a tool for driving open social innovation. In a governmental context, this means creating solutions to social challenges by opening up development to people and organizations outside government. Local governments like the City of Toronto, NASA, NSF, and the United Nations have all used hackathons to address social problems.
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