Why do people come to hackathons?

– A lot of people come to learn, in particular about creating technology-based sustainable solutions and practice teamwork in multidisciplinary teams with new people, but also to put their own expertise into practice and share it with others. People also come to hackathons because they want to meet people from different backgrounds, collaborate with others from different disciplines and to do professional networking since many different stakeholders are involved in the process. It is a great way for talents to showcase their capabilities for a potential employer or gain confidence to start their own business. It is also a lot about self-development and empowering yourself and others, while getting the motivation and pushing your limits to do things you didn’t know you are capable of. I would say those are the main reasons for why people at the end of a well-organised hackathon already ask ”When is the next one?!” with a sparkle of excitement to learn in their eyes! 

Researcher Monika Lionaite is writing her master thesis at Stockholm University exploring how hackathons can be used as an instrument to facilitate adult learning in obtaining digital competence.  She included Hack for Gävle in her research by sending out a survey to all the participants of this hackathon which focused on the challenges of Smart Cities. 

– The survey is asking participants to reflect on their learning process and outcomes at a hackathon event, in particular learning by using technological and digital tools and developing digital competence, Monika explains.

She investigates if the participants learned or developed any new skills or tools, such as presentation skills, a new programming language or web site design for example.

–  I also ask what was the main key component that contributed to their learning; like mentors, or resources provided, or how the hackathon program itself was designed. These types of questions can also help the organizers to improve and develop hackathons for the future events, including more efficient ways to create the learning process and value for the community.

Why did you choose to look at the learning part of hackathons in your reseearch?

–  Most of the previous research in academia has focused on how to do a hackathon, but very little concerned the learning process. In fact, I had a discussion with UNESCO program specialists for Learning Cities and decided to help such organizations to realize the potential value that hackathons can bring while creating learning opportunities worldwide, and which fits in a framework of a Learning City.


Officially ‘hakathon’ is a term from the 60’s and was originally used to describe a meeting among software developers and coders within a company to develop and solve technical problems. A hackathon is often a time-, cost-, and resource efficient way to come up with various innovative propositions and solutions, giving the lead for disruptive technologies in the field. In the late 90’s, particularly in the US, public hackathons were introduced where people from diverse backgrounds other than the tech side were invited to participate.

–  However looking generally, majority of hackathons organized worldwide these days still lack diversity and inclusion to gain access to different expertise that adds value credibility to the proposed solution of a challenge, Monika says. When I arrange hackathons I aim to diversify it when it comes to gender balance, backgrounds, skill sets and expertise. Scientists, designers, software developers, teachers, engineers, business managers, event organizers, you name it, diversity is a crucial part in creating a hackathon with innovative and realistic solutions that can be used and applied in the existing digital ecosystem.

About Monica Lionaite

What is your background?

– I started as a hackathon participant, winning silver prize in business sector at Hack for Sweden and later I became a hackathon organizer with Openhack Sweden and professional consultant in the field and had collaborations with the Swedish Governmental mission Hack for Sweden to engage country’s population into innovation making process that creates sustainable impact for the community and the country. During my time when I was hacking I learned a lot from mentors and members in my team from different fields while in return I shared my knowledge and expertise in business field with them.

What part has digitalization in hackathons?

– Digitalisation is accelerating in all fields on exponential base and that is one of the reasons why hackathons get increasingly more attention as an instrument to introduce adults to different ways to innovate in on-demand economy. Already back in 2017 while I was working with Disrupt Synergies Sweden as Foreign Affairs Coordinator, we held first international panel discussions about digital transformation at Almedalen, the political week in Sweden. Back then we were the trend-setters in rising awareness and consulting global companies and startups concerning digital technological disruptions in the field.

What do you see in the future of hackathons?

– At the moment I am developing hackathons for sustainable use while intensively innovating the digital market and disrupting on-demand economy in Australia and internationally. The first one I’m launching as part of a positive social impact hackathon series is ‘Openhack – Hack4Future 2020 Australia’ held with Australian National University in Canberra, with the support of Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt, the Nobel Prize winner in Physics. This hackathon will include collaboration with ANU Learning Communities and innovation hubs and other actors in the field to create sustainable and innovative solutions for the given challenges. This hackathon will include real-life challenges such as bushfire risk management, virus risk management and digitalisation of interactive campus for learning. The topics for challenges were chosen to create and bring value to local and global communities and solve the existing challenges within these by creating innovative technology and its application addressing these global challenges within the fields of environment, health, education and the global economy, all of which are affected by social impact on a large scale globally.

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