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Opportunities and challenges in the hackathon’s aftermath (21.04.2020)

Germany’s federal employment agency implemented one of the winning projects into its website: UDO, an online self-support tool that helps employers apply for short-term labor grants. Another good news is that the innovation spotting network Springwise featured a result of the German Hackathon. Although OpenVent is neither part of the top 20 projects nor does take it part of the solution enabler program, it gained the attention of Springwise who writes: 

“The ventilator, dubbed OpenVent, was developed by Infineon and used a bag valve mask, 3D-printed components and Arduino compatible software. A belt and motor are placed in a housing and the bag valve is placed within the belt. The motor applies pressure to the belt to deflate the bag and releases it to inflate. 

The plans for the device are available as open-source files on GitHub. Nico Kelling, one of the engineers on the OpenVent team, points out that the design was kept intentionally simple, saying, “We’re working for the most-simple concept possible so that others can work further on it. …We hope our idea will make it possible to provide a large number of devices within a short period of time. We can save lives.” 

The example of OpenVent shows that the hackathon was able to attract a lot of people with expertise working on cutting edge solutions to the problem. OpenVent also demonstrates that to understand the impact of the hackathon, we must examine all projects (and not only those in the Solution Enabler program). 

The German newspaper Tagespiegel also reported on the progress of the hackathon’s aftermath. It pointed out the challenges such as the lack of financial support and coordination issues between projects and responsible agencies as well as legal issues. I want to reflect on two identified points: 

First, bottom-up idea innovation follows a different institutional logic than governmental processes. Regulations, laws, and established routines may impede rapid governmental actions (even if actors within the government want to act more quickly). On the other side, the fluid projects teams facing the challenge to scale up their idea hope for more rapid decision-making (particularly for those ideas which need external funding or government collaboration to scale up). 

Second, open social innovation in crisis is hard if the actors within various levels of government who could work with the projects teams have no capacities because they are in emergency mode. For example, Fastbordercrossing.org is a tool aiming at assisting cross-border truck traffic through a digital tool. A challenge they face is that they do not have contact with their ‚client‘ – that is, the border police or the respective ministry. However, the project team understands that the relevant actors who could work with them are at the moment busy with solving corona-issues. 

Organizing Open Social Innovation for Impact (20.04.2020)

Times of crisis can lead to bold, decisive actions. As Johanna Mair and Nicolas Rathert show in a recent article, issue salience and institutional failure may pave the way for new and alternative forms of organizing. Indeed, German politicians seized the opportunity when civilian tech companies and arms-length governmental organizations proposed an online hackathon to find solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. This is a form of open social innovation: the government inviting external stakeholders to come up with solutions for the public good. And so, Germany’s first government-hosted crisis hackathon was born: #wirvsvirus

The final decision to launch the Hackathon happened on Monday March 16, the hackathon took place on March 20-22 (Usually, hackathon guidelines recommend 3 months preparation time). Within 48 hours participants devised solutions within predefined problem categories. The organizers were overwhelmed by public interest in the event: 42,968 people signed up from all societal areas (e.g. entrepreneurs, employees, public sector employees). 26,581 participated, making it the world’s largest hackathon to date. 

Dedicated to conducting relevant research, the hackathon and its (potential) impact captured our attention. On this research blog we will report on our research progress and share our insights.