Understanding how hackathon methodology drives participatory design pedagogy

Awardees: Marcus Mello and Lindsay Woodson (GSD)

Summary: Awardees will explore the “hackathon” as a participatory learning and engagement strategy to bring together members of the Harvard community and beyond.

Marcus Mello and Lindsay Woodson, students at the Graduate School of Design and members of the African American Student Union (AASU), hosted a “hackathon” in April of 2016 to engage members of the Harvard community and Greater Boston from other academic backgrounds in support of their initiative further conversations about inequity in urban centers.

The 2016 “Map the Gap Hackathon” was organized to analyze recent police shootings by contextualizing fatal encounters within their built environment. In this offering, the AASU aimed to design an accessible hackathon – traditionally a method employed in computer science and technology spheres – in order to prototype methodologies of community engagement. They sought to explore the potential of the “hackathon” by including a variety of users – Harvard students and faculty from various academic disciplines, as well as non-Harvard community members and institutions.

Mello and Woodson researched various “hackathons” in the Greater Boston area and to inform their event and debated two models: a competition model (solution-oriented), or an open dialogue (question-driven and organic), ultimately settling on the latter format. They produced a Hackathon Toolkit based on their lessons learned in researching and organizing the event for other groups of students and organizations looking to engage community members with a hackathon.