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Hack for Change & The Ingredients of a Successful Hackathon

We believe in bringing together smart and passionate people, and motivating them to take on hard problems with hard deadlines; that’s our fellowship — 20 fellows, spending the year tackling some interesting civic challenges. An upcoming event, however, aims to light a fire under that model: 50 people, just one day! That’s Hack for Change, a 24-hour hackathon hosted by Change.org on June 18, where developers and designers will come together to build applications for social change and compete for a prize purse of $10K.

We’re pleased to be a co-sponsor of the event, because of our shared models and values. (From the event site: “Through technology we have the potential to democratize politics, to hold power accountable, and to find innovative solutions to the world’s problems.” +1.) That said, I’m particularly excited for Hack for Change, because it seems to bring together three key ingredients of a successful hackathon: good developers, good data and good ideas.

Good developers

Clay Johnson rightly pointed out that the cost benefit analysis for apps competition didn’t attract top notch developers. To enter, good dev shops would be spending too much time with too little pay out: it just didn’t add up. (That’s why the Donors Choose app contest is stressing non-monetary benefits, namely a photo-opp with the one-and-only Stephen Colbert.) Hack for change is taking that issue head on. 10k for 24hrs. Plus that money will serve as seed funding for new business, enabling sustained and broad impact, . All in all, the prize money and weekend format should encourage participation, and the competitive entrance — yes, you have to apply to get in — should help too. Suffice it to say I’m only getting in to watch : )

Good Data

Getting together good developers without providing good data is like ordering a extra dry virgin martini. The glass isn’t just half empty; it’s empty. There is rightfully a big push in the civic space for better data, because it’s the lifeblood of innovative apps. Open311 now powers a number of great apps accordingly; more soon. Change.org has invited partners from gov, social, and political orgs to present their APIs as fodder for the hackathon. That’s where we are coming in (with the actionable FCC API and PHLAPI), and others like the Sunlight Foundation too. It’ll be great to see what the participants are able to grok on this data.

Good ideas

There’s a phrase that is probably overused but probably with good reason: no one has a monopoly on good ideas. Even if you pack smart people in a room together with the tools they need, that doesn’t guarantee success — especially under a rapidly ticking clock. Fortunately they’re turning to the crowd for backup. From now til the event, anyone can submit their own ideas for change that the participants can hack together. Id you have a thought for an app that’ll make a difference, submit your idea here: https://hackforchange.uservoice.com/

We are always excited to see energy around coding for good, and the Hack for Change promises to churn out some great new stuff. It’ll be especially nice to see if this formula for a hackathon works out. Applications for the event close soon, so apply now. We hope to see you there!

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