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Hackathons create new ideas for public services

Published on: 06/04/2018
Last update: 13/06/2019

Public services that organise hackathons can expect an influx of fresh ideas and will see links with other public sector organisations improve, a survey commissioned by the European Commission shows. The responses indicate that EC support for hackathons would encourage the public sector to organise such events.

Organising hackathons can be a challenge, the feedback from 38 respondents in 18 EU Member States shows. Finding sufficient funding tops the list: a hackathon can cost anywhere between EUR 1,000 and EUR 150,000, with the average being EUR 47,000. Respondents also report that it is difficult to make sure hackathons achieve their intended goals, and that they struggle to get their target groups to participate. According to the results of the survey, a hackathon can draw between 30 and 275 participants, the average being 125.

The Commission’s ISA² Programme is contemplating co-funding hackathons to encourage public sector organisations to share and reuse ICT solutions. To assess interest in support for hackathons on public sector data, software and IT services, the programme ran a survey last October.

This is a screenshot from the UK's GDS blog, introducing their efforts on hackathons
Why hackathons are needed, explained by the UK's Government Digital Service

Survey respondents suggested that the Commission could encourage other organisations to organise hackathons. The Commission could help with financing, but could also provide assistance on strategy, practical organisation and communication. The respondents also said the Commission could help by endorsing the participation of its experts in IT and open data.

As well as organising their own hackathons, public services can also participate in hackathons organised by others, or sponsor them. That is one of the suggestions made in a guide published by a Belgian consultancy last December. The “How to organise great hackathons” guide aggregates best practices based on some 130 hackathons organised in the country between the beginning of 2011 and July 2017.

The study also suggests that the optimal number of participants is around 80. Fewer than 25 reduces creativity significantly, while more than 120 participants lowers interaction between teams.

More information:

How to organise great hackathons – a study by Convidencia (PDF, registration required)
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