In 2013, during my senior year at university, I was picked for Google+20. This was a top-20 selection of creatives from around the world, which involved teaming up with Google for an awesome hackathon in LA as part of the Semi-Permanent LA conference. I was invited to meet up with some of the mentors from Google who ran the event, and I pitched them an event of my own. The idea was called Sac30. Where the +20 conference focused on product design, I wanted to focus Sac30 on civic innovation.
I thought I'd share my experience organizing a 45 person hackathon, designing the problem statement, and what I learned along the 2-months between the first spark and execution.
The above video, filmed throughout the +20 hackathon, was the spark that fueled my personal fire. It was an all-day event with myself and 19 other creatives, led by some incredible designers from Google, and other world-class creatives brought in by Semi-Permanent.
During one meeting with my mentors, I brought up wanting to do a similar event to +20 in my hometown of Sacramento - and they suggested I'd be the one to pull it off. Accepting the challenge, I immediately got to work researching event organization, gamestorming techniques, and ways to foster creative collaboration.
After vetting a few ideas, I dove into testing the hell out of the format at my university. I put up flyers all over the place and managed to get two dozen participants to help me test my initial assumptions. I split the 24 people into two groups of 12, and then into two sets of 6 per group.
I optimized based on the feedback and results from the first group's test, and ran a second test the next day. Following that test, I went back and iterated some more, synthesizing what I had learned from both sessions into what became the final format.
I wanted everyone to know about the hackathon, and didn't quite know how to get the word out at first. So I held a mini-hackathon between myself and a few co-conspirators to build a plan of attack.
We wanted to keep the spirit of +20 and not limit the event to any particular kind of creative. Designers, animators, artists, photographers, investors, builders, developers - we wanted to preserve that diversity as a core element of what we were creating.
With that established, we reached out to all design schools in the area, a number of trade schools, and all nearby universities' creative, english, and engineering departments. We arranged for close to 20 professors to announce in their classes that this hackathon is happening, and to provide their students with a URL to the website.
In addition to direct outreach, I managed to secure a spot on the largest news program in the area, GoodDay Sacramento, to pitch the event to their viewers. As you can see in the photo, I was pre-coffee (in the grey blazer).
After a lot of searching, I managed to find an event space where we could hold Sac30. The owners of CapSity, a coworking space in Sacramento, offered to host the event for free. We teamed up to design a series of work areas for the participants, and worked to optimize the relatively small space for what would end up being 45 people working together.
Our hosts at CapSity connected us to the local chapter of TEDx, which was hosted in another coworking space called The Urban Hive - the owner of which let us speak at a number of events, pitching the concept of Sac30, and encouraging more people to sign up.
Around 2 months after the initial conversation, launch day was upon us. A number of the original mentors from +20 signed on to be mentors for Sac30, along with around a half-dozen others. This photo is from my kickoff talk from the event, introducing a room of 30 creatives to the format and timeline of the day.
Shortly after this photo, each of the 6 tables were greeted by a mentor, and the room's volume went from moderate buzz to a substantial roar. Sticky notes were everywhere. The hanging whiteboards were covered from top to bottom in notes and schematics.
By the end of the day, each team pitched their idea in front of the entire room. The format didn't include a "winner" of the day - instead, the entire focus was around exploring novel solutions to complex problems without the pressure of competition. The entire focus was around collaboration, which some teams took so much to heart that they even assisted other teams in working through some problems.
After Sac30, I reached out to everyone to gather some basic data around how it was executed. 100% of respondents said they'd participate in a future event like Sac30. 86% said their mentors were "Very Engaging", while the remaining 14% said they were "Engaging". Respondents also seemed to really enjoy the pace of the day, with 47% replying it was "Very Well Paced", while 53% agreed to a slightly lesser degree by reply it was simply "Well Paced".
After Sac30, I made the format of the event open-source, and sent it around to a number of friends and creatives. Sac30 also ended up inspiring a gamestorming kit from the Google+ team, linked here, in which Sac30's prompt around civic innovation was modified and expanded upon.
I continue to be in touch with participants and mentors from Sac30. Some of them have recreated similar events on school campuses around the US, while others have modified the event to be used in-house as a creative exercise.