What Have Hackathons Ever Done for Us?

I don’t get the point of the hack days (or hackathons or whatever they’re called this week) that brands or ad agencies organise. I’ve been to a few and my experience is that they produce very little. Has a viable product or service ever been delivered as a result of a hack day? Not that I know of.

The lack of real innovation is hardly surprising. A typical agency hackathon seems to consist of mostly people from the marketing team and a couple of put-upon developers, who are expected to do a month’s coding in a few hours. Maybe the hackathons made famous by Facebook delivered something useful, but I believe that the brand or agency sessions are largely a PR exercise. At best they might deliver the grain of an idea. There’s nothing wrong with a PR exercise, but there needs to be an element of realism to acknowledge that they are unlikely to deliver innovation.

Moan over, noMaker Monday Transparent smallw for a shameless plug …. We’re trying a different approach to hack days called Maker Monday. Instead of a day or two stuck in a room, it’s a regular monthly event that brings together creatives and technologists to develop long-term projects that deliver creativity or solutions to problems. The first one was held in May in Birmingham. Backed by BCU with funding from the EU, we’ve managed to blag some kit (Arduinos, sensors, Raspberry Pi’s, Oculus Rift and even a 3D printer). We’ve got access to an open innovation space called Birmingham Open Media (BOM) so collaborators can work on projects in their own time.

Each monthly session will be presented by an expert in their field – we’ve got people doing VR, holographic projection, Raspberry Pi, EEG inputs and gesture control. In addition to a short presentation, they will also run a workshop on their specialism. We have artists working with technology lined up to come to the event (and of course, free beer and pizza).

The inaugural event focused developing ideas to deliver for an innovation week in November. There were a number of projects including a speaking keyboard for autistic children, a holographic interactive sculpture and clothes that automatically offer themselves to charity if they’re not worn (you can find more project concepts here).

We’re hoping that the regularity of Maker Monday will create more meaningful results than a hack day. The spread between creative and technologists is pretty even, but as an open innovation event, anyone is welcome (even people from outside Birmingham). The advantage of the monthly approach is that people can collaborate and develop their skills where needed. Maker Monday is free, but tickets need to be reserved (see our Eventbrite page for details).

The next event is at BOM on Monday 29th June at 5.30pm.

See our Tumblr page (http://makermondaybrum.tumblr.com/) for project details or Tweet us @maker_monday

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