Experimental Civics

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3 Fastest Ways to Improve as a Hackathon Judge

You’ve just got asked to be a judge at a hackathon. Now what?

First, congratulations!

Second, here are three tips that have helped me gauge projects and their success in a hackathon environment.

Ask for a rubric.

Depending on how the hackathon is run and how prizes are awarded, having a starting baseline of a project evaluation form/rubric can be tremendously helpful.

Spend time prior to the event reading through any and all materials you have available to you. It’s important to have a grasp of what kind of projects/challenges are being hacked and beginning to formulate ideas on the creativity you’ll be bound to witness.

Now civic hackathons are trickier because we’re going past the normal “impressive” and “technical difficulty” criteria and building in the social impact aspect. But here is what we’ve worked with and it’s far from perfect, but it works.

ATX Hack for Change 2016–17

Usually the criteria are some assortment of these:

  • X% — User Experience/Design
  • X% — Innovation
  • X% — “Wow” Factor
  • X% — Impact/Sustainability
  • X% — Technology Difficulty
  • X% — Collaboration

But make sure to get familiar. It helps you. It helps the hackers. It helps the event hosts.

Respect da tech.

This one is always fun. As a non-technical person, but a builder in many ways, I know what it’s like to start from scratch and trying to problem solve along the way. Building a plane and flying it at the same time is awesome.

I took my time observing hackers, asking questions, and learning the fundamentals of what tools they were using to build their ideas out. You don’t have to be technically savvy to appreciate creativity, passion, drive, and talent to getting products to completion.

Leo has spoken

I would encourage first-time judges or even those who have attended hackathons before to actually sit and watch how websites are built, how applications are tested, how graphic designers craft the buttons you’ll be clicking through later…all of this will not only enhance your understanding, BUT you will have acknowledged the work and effort of the hackers. Maybe learnt something new.

It’s kind of like “Project Runway” where you can watch teams go through the whole process and appreciate how far they had to come along to get across the finish line.

Shout-out to Tim Gunn.

Tick. Tock.

I feel that this is not stressed enough in judging rubrics. In the future, I want to create a document of how fast projects can be run through to a minimum viable product at a hackathon. It’s absolutely astounding when you have all the skills in the group and folks are all aligned in one direction.

We seem to be focused on the outcome and the “wow” factor that we forget how critical time can be.

As someone who likes to run at optimal speeds to ensure task completion with quality and ease so that future tasks are easier…this is key. Did the team create a new workflow in a short amount time? (Let’s appreciate how people in some organizations can’t get that hurdle tackled in months and years of being together…) Let’s give credit where credit it DUE.

Ask your event organizers exactly how many active hours did the hackers have to hack. I’m still always in awe.

There you have it.

Good luck and most of all, have fun! Hackers have worked really hard and so I’m all for giving constructive feedback, but don’t forget to litter your statements with the positive things you like.

Not a writer…just a civic hacker writing about things. Share your rubric and judging tips below. I know there are more out there.

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