3 Hackathons Trying to Change the World

When you think of hackathons, you might think of coding, right? That’s certainly where the concept came from, but it’s taking on new meaning, as more non-profits and civic leaders embrace it as a format for social innovation.

In recent years, hackathons have helped city governments across the country build new web and mobile applications. These apps provide services like a way to report potholes. Now, hackathons are being used by an even wider range of sectors that involve social good. Below are three that are leading the way.

1. Code for America

Early success helped to fuel the launch of Code for America, a non-profit founded in 2009, which offers fellowships to tech workers interested in helping city government leaders. For example, when heavy snowstorms hit Boston last year, Code for America helped create mobile apps for parents to track their children’s school buses. Community groups were also able to adopt fire hydrants to help keep them clear of snow. Not only did these apps help Bostonians, but they were also repurposed for other cities.
Thanks to a $1.5 million Google grant, Code for America has recently expanded its fellowship program to include 26 fellows in eight cities. It’s also launched the new Brigade program to involve more people on ad hoc projects, and begun work on an accelerator program.

2. MITX Up

MITX, a non-profit trade association at the intersection of marketing and technology, launched MITX Up, the first hackathon of its kind. The association has accelerators and incubators based in Boston and Cambridge, where MITX Up assembles teams of marketing and technology experts to give startup founders their undivided attention and help for two hours.
During these sessions, MITX Up participants help identify a startup’s key audience and develop strategies and tactics to reach them. The most recent gathering took a twist and featured the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and City of Boston — both interested in enticing startups and students to flock to the region.

3. Creative Currency

Creative Currency is launching in San Francisco starting with a hackathon-style brainstorming event later this month. Teams of tech talent, community workers, and social service experts will work to solve problems for a neighborhood with one of the Bay Area’s highest poverty rates. Be sure to follow along with what unfolds over the coming months as wider circles of citizens take a direct role in solving community problems. Creative Currency is a partnership between Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, The Hub Bay Area, and The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.

What kind of hackathons are happening in your community? Do you think they can be used to help your favorite cause?

by Scott Henderson