The biggest international online hackathon in history, according to Chancellery Minister Helge Braun, who acted as patron, was organised last weekend by the German government - as well as some ambitious initiatives such as "Code for Germany" and "Project Together".
After a first hackathon in Estonia the weekend before, a small team of three nerds had decided: "We can do that in Germany too; no - we need that in Germany too!
That was on Monday after the hackathon in Estonia and thus four days before the start of the hackathon in Germany.
A hackathon is a design and programming competition in which participants try to solve tasks within a few days. The meeting, which is particularly popular in the tech world, is intended to enable participants to work together on software and hardware solutions, to develop creative ideas and apps, but also to find solutions for specific problems.
By Friday noon, all German citizens should submit their "Challenges in the Corona Crisis", i.e. requests for solutions from the areas of information, health, family and social affairs, and care. Inspiration should also come from conversations - preferably currently by telephone or video chat - with family and friends.
In Estonia, over 860 people had worked on 96 previously submitted ideas. Among them was an app for managing daily routines during a curfew and a platform for teachers and students to meet for online learning.
In Germany, even the German government itself submitted problems arising from the Corona crisis for which solutions were to be developed.
The organizers identified the most promising proposals and sorted them into categories until Friday evening. The topics were varied: for example, the distribution of aids, neighbourhood support, the recording and transmission of new cases of infection, the mental health of people in crisis or the digitalisation of public administration. A global online register for ventilators, digital shopping services for the sick and quarantined, or electronic cultural offerings were in demand. Other topics were: how to allocate hospital beds or track infection chains, how to organize corona tests, how to find harvest workers for farmers and helpers who bring food to the homeless. In the start-up talk, these intricate problems are euphemistically called "challenges".
These challenges should be solved in only 48 hours.
"When on Wednesday evening, with many calls in the media, about 1,000 nerds had registered for the weekend, the organizing team, which had grown to 17 people by then, celebrated its success two days after the idea and before the start," says Christina from the organizing team. "We didn't know what would happen in the next 24 hours."
The registrations exploded on Thursday to 42,968 participants. In addition, there were 2,922 mentors and over 500 companies - including CLP, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM - who wanted to volunteer their know-how to the development teams.
Like CLP, Dorothea Bähr, Minister of State for Digital Affairs since March 2018, was one of the mentors.
"You don't want to stand idly by in the Corona crisis but want to help? Let us develop ideas for the Corona challenges together. Take part in the #WirVSVirus - Hackathon of the Federal Government from 20.-22.3. Happy to be mentor." she tweeted.
Despite increasing the organizing team with friends and family to 70 and later to 100, the first technical problem crystallized on Thursday evening: The team communication platform SLACK, on which the 45,000 participants were supposed to work with each other online for 48 hours without interruption, only allowed 2,000 participants at once.
"Adding 40,000 all at once to a single instance seems like ... a bad idea :)" - the smiley at the end of the message from Steward Butterfield, technician at SLACK, could not make a good idea out of the message that the cooperation of 40,000 participants on the Slack platform is not a good idea.
The organizing team did not give up: one hundred times ten fingers clicked the more than 40,000 participants manually in a night shift from Thursday to Friday. But this was not the only night shift, as it turned out.
"In a crazy night shift, the next night from Friday to Saturday, we narrowed down the submitted 1989 solution requests to the 588 most relevant ones with 30 volunteers, and these in at least 48 challenges," Christina from the organizing team continued.
On Friday, the online compilation of the teams was already running, which was organized by the part of the mentors who were also available as moderators. Additionally, many participants had to be supported with technical problems, access problems and orientation problems. The orga-team stayed cool. With different slacks and threads, Excel tables and instructions and the alternative platform DevPost they sorted and structured the participants until Saturday morning.
And these were the top challenges:
#1_004_distribution of helpers
#1_006_medical device manufacture
#1_011_infection case transmission
#1_020_corona test processes
#1_031_digital disease anamnesis
Saturday started like Friday: with a delay.
The welcome video at 10am gave the final instructions. Some of the teams had already started to work during the night. The energy was up to 200%. Besides SLACK, the chats, threads and stories ran parallel on Twitter, DevPost and LinkedIn. Zoom supported the teams in their video meetings. The YouTube video in the evening closed with the call to briefly interrupt work at 9 pm to thank all the doctors, nurses and helpers with clapping. More than 800 of the participants found time on Sunday during the break to support "#We stay at home for you" and sent their photos to SLACK. The finals started already at 18.00 o'clock. With a brilliant online closing party, the final point was set among the pitches and presentations that had been completed and submitted throughout the day. Here you can find the compilation of the projects. Finally, there was the premiere of the specially composed #WirvsVirus Hackathon Song (listen here).
Among other things, we assisted in the choice of legal form and the foundation of associations, of course with data protection and imprint, with liability minimization for social online services but also with the demarcation to ethics and behavioral guidelines or for example LegalTech start-ups like CoronaLaw, which should enable a low-threshold access to law.
The solutions will be presented to a broad audience this week under the hashtag #WirvsVirus or #WirvsVirusHack. The best of them will be supported and accompanied further. SLACK will be left open and the teams will continue their work.
The world's biggest hackathon ended - but it was only the beginning.
The beginning of a movement.
the Hackthon took place with an organizational lead time of 4 days in Germany online with the technical and intellectual resources available here and without a big budget
- the average age of the participants was clearly below 40
- there were different people at Sart (old-young; female-male; German-not-German...)
- whose qualifications and personality had not been carefully checked by an HR professional before
- agile work and "new work" simply took place and met an absolute need of all participants without guidance, training or consultants (no hierarchies, self-organisation, different professions in the teams)
- the whole thing without classical, that is to say monetary and economic incentives and
- without a sophisticated legal, privacy and ethical corset (the participants only committed themselves to the guidelines, the so-called Hack Code of Conduct)
Anyone like us who is active in business and management consulting and is familiar with Spiral Dynamics and knows the experiences of the "Management Guru" Peter Drucker with regard to organizational structures, leadership and the profitability of NGOs experienced a revelation last weekend:
Corona and three ambitious nerds catapulted Germany out of RED-BLUE-ORANGAN structures somehow, somewhere in YELLOW-TURKISH and that with the vintages of the 20s, 30s and 40s - at least for 48 hours.
Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future Movement of the under 20s have been working for months for the climate in GREEN - against much malice (most recently from the carnival in February) and resistance of the older generations. They have prepared and only made possible what finally happened last weekend.
And the federal rebate made it possible: THANK YOU to this diverse team of visionaries!
THANK YOU to all 50/60/70 year olds who decided not to prevent but to make possible!
THANK YOU that we as mentors and companies were allowed to be a part of it.
Dr. Geertje Tutschka, PCC
and the team of CLP - Consulting for Legal Professionals