Driving Collaborative Innovation: Hackathons

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Tom againThe dust has settled on my first Future of Work Masterclass, a fascinating insight into the innovation, ecosystem and architecture of collaboration, and now is the time to reflect. I enjoyed a number of discussions concerning new means of collaborative innovation and the best way to foster a dynamic collaborative space. One subject that cropped up a number of times was that of a ‘hackathon’.

A hackathon is defined by Google as an event of typically a few days, where a range of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming – usually to identify process improvements, or provide immediate solutions to weaknesses within systems. Yet hackathons are no longer the preserve of the tech community. Outside the realms of engineering or software, hackathons are being used as a new way to engage employees, transforming the use of time and opening opportunities for innovation. Indeed hackathons are a variant of our existing Fowlab jam platform, where ideas are crowdsourced to determine actionable solutions.

The hackathon’s wide appeal alludes to a growing awareness of underutilised creativity, talent and resources within organisations, and offers an unconventional means of developing innovative ideas and new products. The efficiency of the teams, expected to move from concept to prototype in a few days, encourages proactive engagement. Hackathons have even been adapted, through companies such as ‘StaffUp’, for use as recruiting and networking tools.

From the interactive sessions within last week’s Masterclass, it was clear that some Consortium members are already using hackathons to rejuvenate systems. One recent example contained within a wider FoW case study is that of Dutch food and agriculture bank Rabobank, who successfully launched a hackathon to find practical solutions to food waste. We also heard comments from Randstad and Shell highlighting their use of hackathons in the innovation process.

Looking outside of the Consortium, RJMetrics – a business intelligence company – has put the concept to internal use, aligning the dynamism of the event to their company culture. Having noticed that employees often struggled to find time for innovation, they decided to introduce a 24-hour period for working on experimental projects. These hackathons provided the biggest disruptive force on the product development line and formed new strategic ambitions for the company.

At the Hot Spots Movement, we have noted a similar trend towards the use of our jam platform. Managers are increasingly aware of the need to address complex challenges, provide clear communication channels and instil a collaborative drive towards engagement. Over a more sustained period our jam platform has been used to: identify issues, formulate provocations, strategically communicate and crowdsource solutions over a 72 hour period of real-time collaboration.

The widespread adoption of innovative collaborative techniques such as hackathons and jams alludes to the changing nature of how employees invest their time – an interesting topic that will receive further insight as a future FoW theme.

We are interested to see how these events develop and would be delighted to hear from any of our members if they are using hackathons within their organisation. Please feel free to get in touch here.

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