A Hackathon is an event where people come together and use technology to collaboratively improve upon or build new software. Hackathons are sometimes undertaken to achieve a specific goal, but often they are an opportunity for organisations/groups to explore open ended citizen/public led, innovative ideas.


Hackathon events became widespread in the mid to late 2000s in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. The Method has since been used in many other areas to bring together citizens and experts to generate innovation.

Hackathons can last between a few hours and a week. Events typically start with one or more presentations about the event and the specific subject if there is one. Participants then suggest ideas and form teams based on individual interests and skills. The Hackathon then begins and can last anywhere from several hours to several days. Sometimes there is an element of competition with prizes for the best ideas. At the end of the Hackathon there is usually a demonstrations in which each team demonstrates their results.

Used for

Traditionally used to bring together computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Events often have a specific focus but are generally used for innovation, education or social purposes, although there is often a goal to create usable software or other technological improvements or innovations. Hackathons have also been used in the life sciences to advance informatics infrastructure that supports research  and also by neuroscientists to bring scientists and developers together to address issues focussing on specific information systems .


Hackathons involve a range of participants. This ranges from experts, policy makers, citizens and industry stakeholders.


Low - Medium

Approximate time expense

Organisation may take several months. The Hackathon itself may last anywhere between half a day and a whole weekend.

When to use

Hackathons are used when organanisers want to open up a pool of expertise for relatively little cost, to crowdsoource innovation or gather data.
Some other things organisers should consider:

  • Organisers need to think carefully about the date, avoiding weekends with similar events scheduled, politically significant dates and holiday weekends.
  • Choosing the right kind of venue is important, particularly in terms of accessibility. The venue must also have a good internet connection and there may be other equipment such as extension cables which will also be essential.
  • A technical person will be needed to help set up and continue to be available in case of problems. Food and refreshments are usually provided for participants.
  • A facilitator can help participants think beyond what they already know allowing new ideas to emerge.
  • Occasionally recruiters will attend to recruit people for their companies or projects. This can be disruptive to work in progress. Organising a social event might be a better forum for people to discuss employment opportunities.
  • Organisers should be aware that people are giving up their time for free and it might be worth considering prizes to incentivise participation.


  • Opens up a pool of expertise for relatively little cost/risk
  • Stimulates innovation
  • Good for network building
  • Opportunity to develop skills and expertise
  • Opportunity to gather data


  • Short term public engagement, may not have significant impacts  on policy making
  • Takes significant planning

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