Hack For: A platform to make hackathons work for real world problems

Created by Rowan Wernham.

I'm a Designer in New York, NY. I work at Snapr. I earned a M.A. from University of Auckland.

Project Description

*UPDATE - Slide deck with initial research outline posted here:

A different approach to Hackathons that follows the lean startup model of creating products in response to the needs of a real market.

Instead of developers arriving at an event with an idea, or jamming something up in response to the API's provided, how about a process & product that:

- Facilitates research about a certain group of people prior to the event.
- Allows for identification of problems they might have.
- Sets the stage for a hackathon that responds to those needs.
- Involves the target user group in the judging and testing of the prototypes.
- Includes a plan to continue development of the best ideas into real products.

Hackathon's might not solely be based around tech products - in some cases it might be more appropriate to assemble architecture students, physical product designers, or others such as social workers.

For running the actual event we would use existing platforms such as CollabFinder.

In order to justify involving real people in the research phase it would be important to make sure they get something back out of the hackathon projects.

We will develop some ideas for how to make sure the best projects aren't just abandoned after the event, for example:

-Cash Prizes might include milestones for further product development.
-Protocols to make sure projects include basic documentation before teams disperse.

Hackathons bring together pools of clever people who are prepared to give their time to build a solution or idea - it would be great to more frequently put that resource to use on real world problems, and to create some outcomes that have a longer lifespan.

Project Goals

  • Wireframe a product prototype and get feedback

  • Create a working prototype

  • Trial an event

Github page

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Briane' Knight

I live in the heart of hackathons (silicon valley)!!!


Briane' Knight

I absolutely love this idea. I go to alot of hackathons and it is so sad how prizes get delved out to products that have not tested on users or interviewed users first. Is this project still active? I want this to exist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Joel Natividad

Wonderful idea! Should help in making more sustainable civic hacks. As we discussed during the Expo, consider also getting problem briefs ala BigIssues from City Agencies. Perhaps, even get them to carve out micro-projects from their backlog that are too big for the RFP process to sustain the civic hacking ecosystem.

And should you want to publish some data/findings from these Hack Fors, would be more than happy to host it at datawrangler in,


Paul de Medeiros

Hi Rowan,

I've been pretty active in hackathon space here in Holland for a while now. Your concept seems very promising, especially because the 'after' of a hackathon is often very difficult to organize. I'm wondering what your experience is with organizing hackathons?




Hey Paul - I have mainly been a participant in hackathon's as opposed to an organiser.

Its still the early stage of an idea that we put together at the sunday big apps hackathon.

Ashley (developer / collaborator) is the one who is driving the 'post' hackathon ideas, and we still have a bit of work to do there.

I have a few good people to chat to (my roommate co-founded Hacker League & Saha from Collabfinder is a friend), but I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Some of the initial ideas for improving the afterlife of winning hackathon projects are:

-Encourage organisers to have prizes that include milestones for further development, i.e. extra stuff, more cash..

-Require winning teams to add project code for a repo & make sure its usable / includes docs to get it running again before claiming initial prizes. (So if some team members depart after the event the others can keep things going)



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