We interviewed Chris Gatherton from the FT about the benefits of a hackathon.

We also interviewed participants from the recent Angel Hack in London on 23rd April.  

Hackathons are increasingly being used by large corporations for so many reasons, so we investigated some that had taken place in London and explored their purpose.

Data Science London set their vast community of Data Scientists onto the task of extracting insights from EMI’s “Million interview datasheet”.

The problem statement was very specific: “to develop methods of predicting a song’s popularity”. They had over 100 data scientists in the room along with reps from EMI.  Dell Zhang won first prize, using machine learning in under 48 hours.  You can read more about how he won here.

Hub Westminster was the hackathon venue for a large meet up of data scientists. The event www.BigDataHackathon.com had over 250 people competing over three challenges to do with machine learning, data visualization and a Free Data Challenge as well (it was held in conjunction with Microsoft, Azure, Kaggle and Peer Index).

Rewired State, have held a whole series of ‘hacks’ in London:

  • Parliament Hack looked at over 350 years of parliamentary data (all the way back to the Magna Carter) to increase democratic involvement and make the data accessible and useful to the public. A Group called ChaMPion won the Best In Show Category with their app that “aims to bridge the gap between media myth and reality, to help people understand how hard MPs do work to raise awareness of and facilitate change on a vast range of issues”. You can see a list of all the winners here.
  • The Welcome Trust biomedical hack which aimed, among other things, to make the research of the Trust Fund more accessible i.e. beyond the reach of the scientific community (great write up of the day along with the winners in each category here by Emma Rhule).

Data Kind held their first UK hack for charities with us last year. They looked at problems faced by three largecharities (Place2Be, Oxfam and Keyfund) and got agreat write up in the Guardian about how they looked into problems. From identifying the end users that would benefit most from the charities services, to what the most effective fund raising techniques were.

Global Sustainability Jam

This moves away from the data and tech hacks and is what is described as a ‘service design hack’. The Service Jam took a mix of participants from the arts, design, business, finance, Academia, sustainability and social innovation and over a 48-hour challenge, developed new designs and services to make the world a better place. What a great idea!

These were all, without a doubt, fantastic events with real value to both the attendees and organisations that commissioned them. New ideas and realistic solutions were prototyped around the issues the organisations or hosts had identified. This isn’t surprising when you think as many as 5,280 focused man hours of intense problem solving are applied in the space of 48 hours at a single event, to a single issue. It’s this, the hacks’ ability to mobilise a crowd around an identified issue, that seems to have inspired so many people to start organising them. You can now find hacks on everything from fashion to finance, chocolate to cholera.