The urgency and stakes of the COVID-19 crisis prompted the German Government to draw on a novel form of organizing to aid in resolving the crisis. The German Government served as the host of the #WirVsVirus hackathon organized by arms-length governmental and civil society organizations. Hackathons are fluid forms of organizing emphasizing flexibility and self-organizing to develop prototypes rapidly. We understand this as an open social innovation: the government asked civil society and the private sector to assist in coming up with solutions for the social good.
The results: 42.968 signed up for the hackathon, and 26.581 participated – the largest hackathon the world has seen to this date. Participants generated 1.494 project ideas, from which a jury pre-selected 197 entries and awarded 20 projects from this list. To assist in realizing ideas, the organizers implemented a solution enabler program. 130 projects are in this program and now it is the time for them to develop further, establish formal structures, and create impact.
While there has been some research on hackathons, utilizing hackathons beyond confined technological problems is less explored. On the one hand, the hackathons‘ results are impressive: it rallied all relevant stakeholders (i.e., government, civil society, and the private sector) to kickstart social innovation. It also might even be a field reconfiguring event shaping social innovation practices in Germany in the long-term. On the other hand, institutionalizing and scaling for impact takes a lot of efforts – particularly when bottom-up innovation meets hierarchical structures. One may also wonder whether applying organizing practices originating in Silicon-Valley favoring technological solutionism are suitable for solving complex social issues.
In this research, we set out to explore the open social innovation process of the #wevsvirus hackathon and its impact. We broadly ask, how does one organize an open social innovation process? What are the outcomes of this process? How do the projects develop after the hackathon? How does this hackathon as a potential field reconfiguring event affect the (governmental) approach to organize for social innovation?
Establishing a research program
We design a research program that will allows us to follow the project real time. As we are interested also in the impact of the initiatives chosen, we plan to do so for several years, cover multiple sectors and engage with existing knowledge across disciplines.
In times of crisis, we also need to rethink how we create knowledge and how we disseminate knowledge in new ways. This project aspires to apply several methods such as action- or problem-driven research and relies on standard methods we use in the social science. We will also deploy knowledge creation and dissemination practices such as publishing micro-case studies and sharing research insights on this blog as well as facilitating multi-stakeholder workshops.