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10 steps to a kickass hackathon

I've organized and participated in numerous hackathons, in Finland and abroad, and here are a few points that I've found to be the most important when organizing a successful hackathon.

If you're wondering what a hackathon is, especially in a service design context, and why arrange one, read our previous post on the subject. 

1. Pick a theme

Write a brief and make sure it’s interesting enough to get people thinking. Give them relatively free hands, but make sure you define the subject area.

2. Pick the people

Think about the particular groups of people you want to participate. Diversity of specialties within teams can provide enjoyable learning experiences and great results.

3. Find experienced facilitators

Good facilitators inspire people and make them feel they can come to your event to learn new things. 

4. Location and space matter

Create a space that supports people getting excited about meeting new people, having new ideas, and working together. Snacks are important!

5. Tell people about it

Let people know about your hackathon. Get personal by talking about how amazing your facilitators are. Talk about the sort of people who are slated to participate. Talking to people will potentially expose you to many cool ideas you can integrate into your hackathon, in addition to creating buzz. It's important to create a feeling of doing something amazing together right out of the gate. 

6. Choose the right marketing channels

Start light and see what works - social media, channels that have a proven ability to reach students, people you know who match your target group. You might generate a buzz straight out of the gate, so plans A, B and C are not always necessary.

7. Partners can be surprising, too

Be open to cooperating with a wide variety of players from different fields. Interesting data sets can be found in the most surprising places.

8. Schedule for immersion

Immerse the participants in your problem before the actual hackathon by organising a kickstart for as many of the paritcipants as possible. In addition to starting the process of thinking about the problem, it helps participants get comfortable with each other.

9. Make it last

Think about how to generate a sense of excitement before the event, what materials you’ll share after it and how you’re going to further develop the ideas generated at the hackathon.

10. Don’t plan it to death

Leave room for new ideas and avenues that may open during the hackathon and suggestions provided by participants, partners and others.


We're organizing our next hackathon together with Kiinteistömaailma on January 29th. You can follow it on Twitter with #asuntohack.

Would you like to join a future service design hackathon? Leave us your email and we’ll keep you posted on future hackathons. Or perhaps you need help organizing a hackathon? Contact us and let’s make it happen together! Leaving a note about what you're specifically interested in is optional.

Organizing a hackathon is not that complicated, and participating in one is definitely fun! If you have a problem area that you need possible solutions for or something you'd like to explore together with other interested people, organizing a hackathon is an excellent option. This list will get you started.