Adding Code-A-Thons to the Event Mix

Code-a-thons and hack-a-thons have moved out of the basements of Silicon Valley and into ballrooms across the country. These events are usually one or two day intensive sessions where software developers work in teams to develop a technology solution to a stated challenge.

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted one as part of their efforts around the national opioid crisis. The Opioid Symposium and Code-a-Thon allowed HHS to educate attendees on their five-part strategy for combatting opioid abuse. The event posed three challenge questions to programmers from private industry, academia, and government. From there, the 50 teams began designing solutions for the next 24 hours. Winners in each of the three tracks were selected the following day.[Tweet "New #GovEventsblog article: Adding Code-A-Thons to the Event Mix"]

While this in-person event was specific to a single government agency, the federal government as a whole has been hosting virtual code-a-thons since the launch of challenge.gov in 2010. This site allows federal agencies to submit a problem that needs a technical solution. Prize money is offered, and a time frame is given for the development of working code. Both individuals and companies are eligible to participate in solving complex, mission-centric problems.

The collegial and collaborative environment at these events is something that most event planners strive for. The experiential nature of the code-a-thon can draw a deeper connection between your attendees and your organization than any networking reception could. Here are a few ideas should you decide a code-a-thon format will work for your audience:[Tweet "A few ideas for an event code-a-thon format. #GovEventsBlog"]

  • It does not have to be technical - Despite the tech-sounding name, code-a-thons and hack-a-thons can be held without a line of code being written. Organizations can use the same format to design a new process flow, new messaging, or a new program.
  • Provide context - The HHS event did not just throw a bunch of developers in a room and say, "fix the opioid crisis." They had subject matter experts lay out the situation, describe the overall strategy to date, and outline specifically where they were looking for solutions.
  • Bookend your event - Hold a virtual code-a-thon or challenge before your event to get people working on the challenges you'll be covering. You can then have the solutions presented at the live event. A code-a-thon could also be held after an event as a way to make immediate progress on issues that were discussed.
  • Make it fun - In hindsight, those all-nighter study sessions we pulled in college end up being some of our best memories. The intensity of a code-a-thon has a similar vibe. Make sure your participants are well fed and hydrated. Create a playlist on Spotify, or other streaming service that they can tap into to keep the energy up through the wee hours.

We'd love to hear your experience with code-a-thon events. Drop us a note in the comments to let us know what worked and what didn't.

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