Experimental Civics


Stop Getting Rejected | 7 Criteria to Crafting a “Hackable” Project

Rejection happens. It stinks and it doesn’t feel good, but it’s something that every social change agent learns to feel comfortable with, especially when making outreach efforts to engage with nonprofits, community leaders, civic hackers, and city or state employees and asking them to bring projects to a hackathon event. Even corporations are typically more concerned with their own products than community projects, so getting others involved can be tricky and on board with your effort. Over time, I have developed the following 7 criteria that I usually cover with folks when we’re talking about building and pitching community projects for civic hackathons.

1. Scope

Is your project relevant to the civic hackathon?

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Addressing bike safety

Assessing park construction

Fixing a personal website

2. Scalability

Does this project help one person, or can it scale to helping hundreds?

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An application for Palm Pilots

A web application for all browsers

A floppy disk of information

3. Civic Need

Does the project actually address a community problem? The easiest way to figure this out is to ask yourself, “Does this problem affect me?” If the answer is “yes,” then ask yourself, “Does it affect anyone else?” If the answer is “yes” again, then it’s a community problem.

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Garden fence needs an upgrade

Speed bump map around local schools

Voter registration heat maps

4. Sense of Urgency

Why should this project be addressed right now? What is the level of urgency around this? Would this make a significant impact over the next 6–12 months if we started hacking this now? What about in the next 3–5 years?

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Translation applications to assist public service offices

Shelter volunteer engagement

Community group for shoes

5. Skills

Since this is a civic hackathon, part of the magic is that you have no idea who will be working on your project until the day of the event. Knowing what skills you need to build your project is important, and this will govern the hackability of your project.

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Junior web developer

A detailed understanding of Tahina spectabilis

Project manager

6. Timeline

A hackathon has some pretty strict time constraints. Participants engage in a design sprint littered with breaks, but the event does have an end. Understanding your timeline going into the hackathon from inception to what happens afterward is imperative to your project.

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2-day project with all skill sets

7-day project, but 1 area can be completed over a day

4-year project

7. Fun Level

What makes the project exciting — and ultimately what will get you hackers — is ensuring that the project itself is actually fun to hack and play around with. The question I always ask myself when building this out is, “Would I hack this on my own team?” If the answer is yes, then I need to figure out what that would that look like and how I can make this idea more fun.

(There’s a reason why I try talk to different types of sponsors for ATX Hack for Change. This is how we get yoga classes and also milk and cookie and breaks. Keep it playful to keep your teams engaged.)

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8 hours of working in spreadsheets

14 hours of writing code

3 hours of designing the iOS application mock-up

This is just some of the criteria on what makes a hackable project, another key piece is problem statements and how to craft them so that participants understand your intention and can create the right kinds of solutions for your community. Stay tuned for more content on how to build out your projects.

If you have questions or comments on what I’ve laid out here, don’t hesitate to contact me through experimentalcivics.io and we can chat. Also, if you would like me to host a training on this topic at your organization, please reach out.

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