NPC 2/15/13 Featured Presentation: Community Partnership Development Through Hackathons

Below is an edited transcript of the 2/15/13 NonProfit Commons in Second Life meeting, featuring Lyre Calliope on Community Partnership Development through Hackathons. To view the full transcript, go HERE.

Today we have as our featured presenter Lyre Calliope who will be discussing how hackathons can be used to develop community partnerships and for social good.
Bio: Lyre Calliope's mission is to assist in the emergence of a globally collaborative society. His first work experiences came as a volunteer for futures oriented non-profit organizations where he was exposed to cutting edge thought leadership, technology, and had his first experiences as a community organizer. Lyre began applying these experiences in 2006 through work as a social media consultant in an Atlanta-based agency called ConceptHub where he learned how business ecosystems operate and just how challenging they can be when faced with change. In 2010 he cofounded C4 Atlanta, a non-profit organization dedicated to stewarding Atlanta's creative economy by helping arts entrepreneurs build successful careers. Now in Boston, he's turned his efforts toward growing an ecosystem of open innovation practitioners that learn and build in the Commons.
Let's welcome up Lyre, please take a seat and start whenever you are ready.
[Lyre Calliope]
Thanks for inviting me back Rhiannon! It's great to jump back inworld. :)
For some time I’ve been worried about how accelerating technological change also accelerates gaps within society: income, literacy, social equity, etc. ‘Disruptive innovation’ is often seen as the most valuable form of innovation, but there has to be a place for constructive innovation. There has to be a way in which innovation can occur that doesn’t disrupt whole communities, industries, or even economies.
How do we approach innovation as an act of renovation?
I believe a major piece of this puzzle involves tying technological advancement to learning. This is exactly what happens at hackathons.
So, what is a hackathon?
A hackathon is an event in which people involved in software development come together to collaborate on projects. They usually last one to two days, but weeklong hackathons are not unknown. The goals of hackathons can vary, but usually the aim is to develop working software. Hackathons usually have a theme such as a specific programming language, a product category, a community, an industry, or a problem space. You can think of a hackathon as a programming marathon.
As the number of API (Application Programming Interface) based companies have grown, the number of hackathons has gone up as a means of marketing their developer focused products. Some developers think there are too many hackathons. There’s also the problem that good software takes time and few finished products ever come out of them. As a result, hackathons are seen by many people as superficial. This is understandable when finished products are seen as the outcome.
The real value from hackathons comes not from software developed, but from learning: the new connections made neurally, socially, and webbily.
Done right, hackathons enable communities of practice to form. Communities of open innovation practitioners.
Arthur C. Clarke famously said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, hackthons are like the new Hogwarts. They’re where you go to learn new magic.
So let’s talk about purpose driven hackathons.
After Hurricane Sandy, I began volunteering for CrisisCommons, a non-profit organization that stewards the CrisisCamp hackathons it grew from. CrisisCamps convene globally whenever there is a natural disaster to apply open source and open data capacities to disaster recovery efforts. More than just software developers, people of all stripes are invited to participate in data management tasks, communications, etc.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few months is that unlike traditional hackathons in which developers start working on projects from the very beginning, CrisisCamps require something of an R&D process. The problems faced by crisis responders are unique, and often happen in real time. A successful CrisisCamp invites subject matter experts to share their knowledge and help guide the discovery process that informs the design and development of solutions.
At the end of a hackathon, it’s customary for groups to demo the projects that they have been working on.. even if their projects are only prototypes or mockups. During these demos, there’s often an a-ha moment that comes when subject matter experts see what is technologically possible. This can open doors to new opportunities for change within the organizations these subject matter experts operate in.
The division of labor for a team at the typical hackathon falls between designers working on the user interface systems and developers working on the back-end logic systems. For the purpose-driven hackathon, I’d like to add a third category of team participant: Storytellers facilitating problem discovery and solution documentation.
I imagine many of you hear actively identify as storytellers. :)
By introducing the storytelling role into the mix, hackathons can become a learning opportunity open to a much wider group of people. There’s a lot more that I’d love to say about the importance of storytelling in purpose-driven hackathons, but I should talk a bit about the role of data.
Innovation during the past decade can be largely attributed to the Open Source movement. Innovation during the next decade will be all about Open Data.
At the center of hackathon culture is the use of APIs: Application Programming Interfaces. APIs enable the flow of data between Apps and organizational infrastructures in a secure, structured, and accessible way. You may or may not realize it, but all of us are constantly using APIs every day. They are kind of like the web, but for all our apps. 21st century organizational partnerships are built through the exchange of data via APIs.
I could easily have spent this entire time just talking about the role of APIs play in facilitating powerful partnerships between organizations, but then the community learning piece would have been lost!
One of the best ways to really understand APIs if you’re not a techie is to go to a hackathon and help put them into action! Making is learning, and we learn best when we make together. The last thing the world needs is more Instagrams and Pinterests. Unfortunately, software developers are too often isolated from communities with real problems to solve. 
Hackathons are the forums where bridges can be built to engage software developers in civic and purpose-driven problem solving. Hackathons are the place where communities can come together to not only learn where information technology is going, but actually direct its advancement toward solving the real-world problems they face.
That's all I have prepared, but I can go into more detail and fish out some relevant links if ya'll are interested. So, questions? :)

     CarmenLittleFawn: how can a story teller get involved?


[Lyre Calliope]
First thing that brings real value: documentation. Most software developers hate creating documentation, but it's really important for encoding knowledge as well as engaging others in building forward. Second, facilitating conversation and understanding with subject matter experts and helping developers think through application logic. Btw, when I say subject matter experts, I mean people with pain points within communities.

     Jen (jenelle.levenque): Made my living as translator between engineering and users

     Ozma Malibu: so the storyteller can interpret the problems to the designers and developers, and the storyteller can have the vision of a solution that holds everything together (yes Jen - I made my living similarly as translator but in education) 

     Ozma Malibu: Pain points! I had not heard that expression. very useful way to see the problem.

     Glitteractica Cookie: My new work with Carvanstudios will be largely focused on hackthons and apps that come out of them. Lyre and the rest of you... @caravanstudios is our twitter handle. You may be interested in this hacker helper wiki: which identifies the probelms and gives corresponding data to hackers who build apps to help solve civis problems. We are hoping ppl add to the hacker helper wiki and edit it if they see fit.

     Jen (jenelle.levenque): QUESTION: How do we find out about hackathons and what their focus is?

     Gentle Heron wonders if there is somewhere a master list of upcoming hackathons and topics?

     Glitteractica Cookie: there are thousands of hackathons going on, so I doubt there is one master list

[Lyre Calliope]
As for where to find out about hackathons, there are community calendars you can find. A friend of mine is trying to compile a semi-master list and I'll share that link. Honestly, I'd try! Enter the social stream where developers reside and ask them where the hackathon calanders are. :)

     Rhiannon Chatnoir: I have a question, how could you seem something like a Hackathon being carried out within a virtual space such as Second Life or otherwise, and within communities like NPC.


[Lyre Calliope]
So, the great thing about open source tools is that they allow for productive time and space displacement. Which makes them even more powerful when you get people together at the same time.
As long as you get people together within the same headspace and have effective communication channels in place, you're good to go.
Horror story:
After Hurricane Sandy, I was at the MIT Media Lab at the local CrisisCamp while at least a dozen other hackathons were ongoing around the world. All sharing waaaaayyyyy too many communications channels. It didn't just disrupt our ability to work with other events, it disrupted our room.
The physical space was disrupted by too much virtual distraction.

     Rhiannon Chatnoir: so collaborative presence is key - even if virtual

     Frans Charming: You know some the relief fundraising we did and do in SL can be viewed as a hackaton. Thinking back on the once I was involved in, though less about providing data/program.

     Jen (jenelle.levenque): The key word with communications was EFFECTIVE.

[Lyre Calliope]
So yes. Collaborative presence. :)
And by past experience, hacking in second life is second only to actual physical presence.
Incidentally, hackathons are a great way for organizations to support their communities.
The presence enables conversations that wouldn't occur otherwise. Fast looping and iteration. And helps form that core engaged community that supports itself. Kind of like what used to happen in the old days of yore right here.
One other comment! 
I'm a big fan of inter-organizational collaboration. Communities exist between organizations. Hackathons are a great way to bring multiple organizations together and learning how their communities not only intersect, but can help facilitate organizational partnerships out in the open.
Like I said, it's like Hogwarts! Especially for non-api savvy types.

     Rhiannon Chatnoir: Any other questions for Lyre on Hackathons or how this could fit witing your org/mission? And, I have a question for all of you... what are your thoughts on somehow organizing a virtual hackathon?

     CarmenLittleFawn: I would be interested in seeing how it would fit my organization

     Jen (jenelle.levenque): Been mulling that over

     Dancers Yao: sounds good....would like to learn more about this

     Buffy Beale: I think it would be fun and interesting for those non-api savvy types too

     CarmenLittleFawn: I would love it all though I am not a programmer but a storyteller

[Lyre Calliope] 
Storytelling is the original programming.

     Jen (jenelle.levenque): Someone needs to provide the story that shows the need to be addressed

     CarmenLittleFawn: I would love too If I knew how I have a idea I would love to implement

     Rhiannon Chatnoir: yes, the issue/mission/storyline comes first

     CarmenLittleFawn: I can provide a story that show needs

     Rhiannon Chatnoir: maybe we can work on that to come

     Glitteractica Cookie: Are any of you going to build an app or enter an already built app to the win8 apps for social benefit contest?

     Dancers Yao: want to enter...but it is at storytellng level

     CarynTopia Silvercloud: I have an idea but don't know how to get it actualized

     Glitteractica Cookie: caryn, if you want to post yr idea to the wiki, we could maybe add the data to help a hacker build it


[Lyre Calliope]
And just as important as storytelling around need, is storytelling the activity at the hackathon. Publishing ideas, hypothesis, ideas and hypothesis thrown out for new ones.. code prototypes that didn't pan out.. all valuable stories.

     Rhiannon Chatnoir: so let's thank Lyre for presenting today! Great to see you back in Second Life. and maybe we can drag you back if we can get a hackathon going :)

[Lyre Calliope] 
Any time! I'm totally in!

     Gentle Heron: Thank you Lyre. I learned a new word for "collaborative work" 

     CarynTopia Silvercloud: very interesting presentation

     Buffy Beale: cheering! thanks Lyre

     Glitteractica Cookie: Thanks Lyre! You are great

     Beth Ghostraven: yay! Thanks, Lyre!

     CarynTopia Silvercloud: would love to check out a hackathon

     Jen (jenelle.levenque): Thank you Lyre, I was totally mystified about hackathons til today


[Lyre Calliope] 
I'm still mystified. ;)


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