How do hackathons work?

3 min readApr 27, 2020


You may remember we described methods you could use to uncover the insights to help you come up with an idea to the challenge — from getting under the skin of the person you’re interviewing to observing the interactions around you.

I was at @thexdsgroup Hackathon #placemaker sponsored by @accenturedigi and here are some of the lessons I learnt.

At any hackathon, you may want to work on your own and that’s fine. But you may want to work in a team. You may be coming with others to help you. Or there might be other people who’d like to help you out on your idea, whether that’s because they’ve got experience of the issue or design/development skills, or more!

Either way, working out how to…collaborate to produce something that can demonstrate how your idea would work…by the end of the day, will be exciting…and will go very fast! The most important thing is about having a good time together, while producing something amazing!

1. Discuss with your team how you want to work together during your day

You never know, they might be your team beyond the day itself! The people who’ve joined your idea may have seen it on the hackathon’s website or they have heard you introduce it at the start of the day. You, on the other hand have lived and breathed the idea, from the moment it appeared in your idea or in conversation with someone else. They can’t read your mind…or even between the lines, so you need to explain clearly your idea and convey your passion for it, to get them even more excited than they already are.

If you’re good at drawing, how about sketching a storyboard in advance to describe how you envisage people using it. If not, there may be someone in your team who does. Ask them if they could sketch one out while you’re describing it out loud.

2. Explain your idea, why you’re passionate about it and how it has developed so far

The people who want to help you out on your idea are excited enough by it to want to work on it. They’re now part of your team!

3. Discuss amongst the people who want to work on your idea about why they want to work on it

Ask them what suggestions they have on developing the idea further and how they’d like to help. You’ll only have several hours to prototype your idea, so agree with the other members of your team what you’d like to produce by the end of the day to meet the criteria to win. Focus on what needs developing further to best demonstrate how the prototype will work and how it will tackle the issue you’ve identified. Also focus on what skills you have in the team and what outputs they can produce to achieve this. See our post on prototyping for the different ways they can do this.

4. Agree what you want to work on by the end of the weekend

While you’re working throughout the day, it’s more likely that you and others will come up with suggestions while you’re prototyping the idea. This will be the some of the most valuable insights about how the idea would work.

How will you capture them and how will you share them with the others?

5. Agree how your team can feedback during the weekend

…Whether that’s catch ups every half hour and/or a space where people can put post its of suggestions

And here’s a video on how hack days work…

And final recommendation, package up your value proposition in a box. If you can’t do it in 60 seconds, then find a better value




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese