The Gamify it! Hackathon! Gamification for Social Good
This hackathon was a pre-conference event prior to the E-Learning Africa Conference that took place in Addis Ababa in May 2015.
The ambitious goal of the event was to complete some gamified software for the social good with newly built teams in just four days! Participants from all over Africa were invited to the hackathon and put into cross-functional teams. They had been chosen because of their skills and interests.
The preparation of the event consisted of two upstream online meetings with the participants. These served as brainstorming sessions and established initial contact. Additionally, brief information about gamification, the use of game dynamics in a non-game context, was provided online. We believe that gamification is a powerful tool for motivating people and strengthening their commitment and engagement. The transformation from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation is one of the main targets of gamification and we wanted to implement it in the context of development cooperation.
The big day finally arrived. The first day of the hackathon in Addis was dominated by team building exercises, input sessions and design thinking processes for creative solutions. The participants had to think about real-world problems and how they could find a gamified way of addressing them effectively. The main challenge for the moderators was to facilitate the process of ‘opening the box’ first and letting the ideas float out without any kind of criticism: an open brainstorming approach. There then followed a rather difficult phase, in which the ideas were clustered and participants had to choose a realistic and feasible option and go for the most promising one. The moderators and participants had to keep in mind that there were just three days of coding and designing. Sometimes it was necessary to stay on the ground, head three steps back and clearly redefine the purpose of the software. At the end of the day, most of the participants were totally overwhelmed and rather lost in their own thoughts. But that was good because the next morning, they acted as if they had been ‘born again’. They talked within their teams and had lots of new ideas overnight and found possible solutions for the main problems and challenges they wanted to address.
So the hacking began. Three sleepless days and nights of coding, designing, testing, debugging and discussing turned the rooms at the iceaddis coworking space into a lively sphere of collaborative work. The spirit of the hackathon seemed to have been unleashed. But how did we keep them motivated? At first, there was a friendly but competitive atmosphere between the teams. Every day we brought them together in plenary sessions, in which they had the chance to demonstrate the progress of their projects. First of all, the teams obtained feedback from the other participants – an external view of their projects. This way, the teams could see the improvements of the other projects and stay motivated. Secondly, there was a prize for the winning team – an invitation to the Online Educa e-learning conference in Berlin. And thirdly, the moderators had to constantly remind their teams that time was short and that they had to keep on schedule. Finally, every team had the opportunity to participate in a rigorous professional pitch training session to prepare them for their presentation in front of the jury.
As a project management method, we offered them a model that we call Slim Scrum. The idea comes from the agile software development method Scrum Programming. We extracted a few key elements of Scrum and tailored them to the framework of our hackathon. All the tasks that had to be fulfilled, from a first mock-up to the functional coding, were collected in a table called the product backlog. Then the tasks from that table were separated into different work packages called sprints, and the time required for each package was estimated. Once you have nominated people to do the various tasks, you start the sprint. During the sprint it is crucial not to make any changes to the tasks so as not to disturb the participants in their work, so make sure you think about the tasks before the team starts work on them. When the time is up, the team meets to have a sprint review.
In certain circumstances, you might need to adjust the results of the sprint and provide more time for it. If the work package is complete, you update your product backlog and check what the next sprint is. This method allows you to keep an overview of your project and complete tasks in an efficient way. But let’s head back to the Gamify it! Hackathon.
On Wednesday, 20 May 2015, the teams presented their apps to an external jury at the E-Learning Africa Conference at the African Union. The ambitious goal had been achieved – all five teams had created working, gamified software for the social good to address real-world problems in Africa. Every team had exactly five minutes in which to present their products, followed by another five minutes of free testing by the jury.
To keep it a fair competition for every team, it is important to adhere strictly to the time. Although in the end only one winner could be chosen, somehow every team had won. Apart from the fact that the participants improved their technical expertise, they gained new experiences in team building, design thinking, gamification, time management, agile software development and pitching. Finally, they made friends with other participants and now have the chance to continue networking and collaborating beyond the borders of the event.
As a continuation of the hackathon, we organized virtual follow-up meetings to keep in touch with the participants, see how the projects were progressing and put the participants in touch with potential external investors who are interested in developing specific projects further.
The GIZ hackathon on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development was the first gamification hackathon for the social good worldwide.
About the Authors
Volker Lichtenthäler joined GIZ in July 2008, being responsible for the Regional Capacity Building for E-Learning in Africa and the development of GIZ’s Global Campus 21 E-Academy. He now works as a senior programme manager in the Global Knowledge Sharing and Learning Division.
He has a Masters’ degree in German Studies and Latin American Studies from the Free University Berlin, a Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Applications in Education from Dublin City University, Postgraduate Certificates in Open and Distance Education from the Open University/UK and a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Development Cooperation from the Technical University Kaiserslautern.
Philipp Busch has worked for GIZ since October 2014 and is part of the Digital Learning and Virtual Collaboration Team. He is responsible for Gamification and Digital Motivation. He obtained a Masters’ degree in Economics and Geography from the University of Mainz, then continued studying for a second Masters’ degree in Information Systems and Business Administration. At the moment, he is working on his doctoral thesis about Gamification in Development Cooperation.