31st May 2016

How to organise and run a #peacehack?

The aim of a #peacehack is to bring people with different skills from different background to come together and build something to address real issues preventing peace around the world. But how do you do it?

What is a #peacehack?

A #peacehack can be very broadly defined as:

  • Creative problem solving of genuine issues preventing peace. (It does not have to be about technology.)
  • any event of any duration where people come together to solve problems preventing peace.

First steps

Many people would love to run and host a #peacehack, but you probably need to answer a few questions first

Do I have the resources to run a #peacehack?

This is an important question to ask before you start. Resources doesn’t only mean financial, but also the time and the people to prepare and run the event.

Do I have the audience to make this #peacehack a success?

To have a successful #peacehack you need a good blend of developers, designers, project managers and ideas generators.

Do I have a theme for my #peacehack?

Any successful #peacehack also depends on having a strong relevant theme. Strong meaning clear problem statements around a theme that a non-peacebuilding audience can get to grips with. Relevant means a topic the audience can relate to and understand.

Positive energy

Hacks in general can have a bit of a negative image because of some that have an unhealthy, competitive structure, and for setting unrealistic expectations. We believe that #peacehack doesn’t run like that, and certainly the feedback we’ve had from previous participants support that. Here are the some of the goals we keep in mind:

  • Strengthen the #peacehack community.
  • Be welcoming to newcomers to the community.
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to learn something new.
  • Provide a space and a time for participants to make headway on problems they are interested in.

Don’t expect to have actually solved a problem by the end of the #peacehack. Real life problems are hard, especially in peacebuilding! Think of the #peacehack as a pit-stop on a long journey to solve problems or as a training session to prepare participants for solving problems.

Welcoming newcomers

The hardest thing about running a successful #peacehack is being welcoming to newcomers and helping them get involved in an activity.

Newcomers often suffer from “imposter syndrome”, the feeling that they don’t belong because they don’t have skills, aren’t smart enough, etc. They’re wrong, of course, but until they feel like they belong they will not be able to have a fulfilling experience. It is the #peacehack organiser’s job to help them realise they have something to contribute.

First time #peacehack participants are often overwhelmed when it comes time to finding a project to work on. They may not yet know how to relate their own skills to the sorts of projects being worked on. Knowing how to be useful is a skill in itself. You will need to guide them to a project and through a process for them to realise how they can contribute. This is where mentors play a vital part to help guide and team up with other participants.

Hacking

The core activity of a #peacehack is for participants to dive into problems. Often groups of 2-5 individuals form around a project, such as building a new data visualisation, writing a document, creating an app or collaboratively investigating a problem. Participants take out their laptops, connect to power and wifi, and get working.

Hacking begins with project introductions. Participants may bring projects to the event or it could be an idea that is formulated during and after the introductory sessions. The hackers have an opportunity to briefly (1 minute max) explain what they are working on at the very start of the hacking sessions so that other participants can join that project. At the end of the event, the presentation and judging sessions gives each project a chance to demonstrate some accomplishments.

Cultivating Good Projects

Not every project makes a good #peacehack project. It is extremely important to maximize the following qualities in the projects at your event:

  • Clearly articulated. Projects should have a clear question or problem they are trying to solve plus a reasonably specific proposed solution.
  • Attainable. Most projects will accomplish about 25% of what they think they can accomplish in the limited time they have. Manage each project’s goals so participants are able to feel accomplished at the end of the session, not interrupted.
  • Easy to onboard newcomers. Projects should have ready-to-go tasks for newcomers with a variety of skills and at a variety of skill levels. For coding projects, these tasks can’t require an intimate understanding of the code base, and make sure the build environment can be spun up in less than 20 minutes. Make a list of tasks or create github issues ahead of time!
  • Have a lead. Experts and mentors guides a project to real-world relevance. Projects without these can “solve” a problem that doesn’t exist. Ideally the leader (or one of the leaders) is an expert, or a good proxy for one. Additionally, it is never enough for a project leader to just be an ideas person.
  • Organised. For projects with four or more members, especially newcomers, the project leader’s role should be to coordinate, ensuring each team member has something to work on and helping to welcome new team members.

Treat these bullets like a checklist. Projects that think about themselves in terms of these qualities tend to be happier and more productive.

Themed #peacehacks

Themed #peacehack is one in which the projects are confined to a particular problem: such as migration, access to resources or countering violent extremism. Themed #peacehacks are able to attract subject matter experts (something that open-ended #peacehacks are not good at), and projects typically revolve around problems that the subject matter experts bring to the table – real world problem statements!

With themed #peacehacks, especially ones with complex problems, there is a common issue: Subject matter experts can readily identify problems in their field but cannot always turn those problems into workable technology projects. Other participants may be ready to apply their skills but not know anything about the #peacehack’s theme. Bridging that gap requires some planning – subject experts should be encouraged to use simple language as much as possible and presume the audience knows very little about the problem.

It’s not all about coding

A successful #peacehack might be just hacking, or it could have other elements like training, information sharing or other events like a guided walk or other group activities. You may want to break up the event with non-coding activities to give the participants a break but also a chance for participants to get to know others they are not directly working with and increase the community spirit.

Venue & date

Basic requirements

Find a venue to host your event and reserve the date. This is the only thing you need to do significantly in advance of the event. The earlier you can reserve space the better.

Find a venue that can provide:

  • Proper seating (see below)
  • One power strip per table
  • Wifi (is it fast and reliable? can it connect all of your participants? does it block any ports?)
  • Projector
  • A microphone, at least in large rooms
  • Accessible entrances and wheelchair-friendly seating space (and if there is a stage, check if it is accessible, if applicable)
  • Gender-neutral, single-occupancy, accessible bathrooms
  • Appropriate seating (tables large enough to have 4-6 people working comfortably around them)

Although there will be one main room for the events to take place, it is a bonus if your venue has a couple of breakout rooms, both for participants and organisers.

When

Choose the date of your event carefully. Avoid the summer, holidays, and other major events in your field. If you want to maximise your audience we suggest doing it over a weekend. It’s very hard to do a hack for developers who work full time to take the time off during normal work hours to attend.

Ask your venue about permissible start and end times. Set times for when you will arrive/leave and for when participants will arrive/leave. Plan at least 1 hour before and after the event for you to set up and tear-down/cleanup.

Make sure you can get in and that your participants can get in. If the building’s front door is locked, make sure you have a key and that you have someone posted at the door to let in participants (you may need a team of people to rotate at the front door throughout the day).

We have run #peacehacks overnight, but you run a risk of participant burn-out. Weight up whether it’s worth keeping the venue open all night (and the staffing you need to have) or whether to shut up shop late and start again the next morning.

Also check…

Check whether the venue permits you to have food in the room and it will have air conditioning/heating on. Sounds obvious but some venues are not set up for having these at weekends.

Budgeting your venue

Professional venues charge quite a bit of money, so you will need to find something that fits your budget. Hopefully you can find some free space with good wifi, and only pay for a venue if there are no free options available. Many venues will be happy to supply the space at low/no cost in return for sponsorship exposure.

Sponsorship

For large events, you will probably need sponsors to help you cover the costs.

Sponsors will give you something — cash, space, food, t-shirts — with the expectation that they get something out of their support for your event. They might be recruiting/hiring and are looking to scout out your attendees, or they might be marketing a product that they want to promote.

Think about what you’re willing to give sponsors in return for their support. You will certainly thank your sponsors, by name, during your opening and closing session, and you will probably want to tweet your thanks too. Beyond that, do you want to give them a time at a podium to speak to your attendees? Or a table in the back to show off their stuff? It’s up to you, and you have to strike the right balance between bringing in enough sponsorships with not interfering with the goals of your event.

Figure out your budget — your venue and food costs, especially — first, so you know how much in sponsorship you need. But then get started on securing sponsors early.

Food

Ideally you should provide coffee and light fare for breakfast and beverages throughout the day (especially water). Food is surprisingly expensive though, so do what you can.

What to buy

If you provide any food, you really must supply vegetarian and dairy-free options because these dietary restrictions are very common. Going all-vegetarian isn’t a bad idea. After that, give consideration to other restrictions your participants may have (vegan, kosher, gluten-free) and do your best.

If you are ordering food, you will probably place the order at least three days ahead of the event.

Swag

Some events like to provide swag, like t-shirts or stickers. We encourage this! The participants will have something to take away from the event, and we still see our stickers on laptops around the world.

Happy hours

A pre-event happy hour the night before helps participants to get to know each other in a relaxing setting. A post-event happy hour the evening after the #peacehack wraps up gives participants a chance to socialise now that they know each other, although be aware that they may be too tired to socialise – and more than likely so will you.

For large events, pick a bar ahead of time and talk to the bar and make sure it is ok for you to bring a large group. You may want to reserve a section of the bar (they may ask for a payment ahead of time or a guaranteed minimum spend that they will charge you after if your people don’t order enough).

If you are serving alcohol keep in mind: not everyone drinks (those under 21, pregnant women, and many other people for a variety of reasons); alcohol can lead to an unsafe or uncomfortable environment; those that drink will need public transportation to get home. So therefore: provide non-alcoholic drinks; supervise the environment to ensure it remains professional and comfortable for all; be near public transit.

Registration

Set up an Eventbrite registration form. Not only does it have everything you need for free, it can give extra exposure to your event.

Registration Limit

Determine your maximum capacity. For a free event, about 50% of those who register will actually show up. This number is very consistently seen across events. So cap registration at 150% of your actual maximum capacity. You may want to charge a nominal fee to attend. Although this won’t make up the costs, the % of those who sign up to who shows up increases dramatically even if the number that sign up is lower. Weigh up the pros and cons of this before you decide. If this is your first #peacehack, it may be best not to charge to build up a following.

Gather info

Use the registration form to gather information about participants:

  • Name (and possibly other information as required by venue security)
  • Email address
  • Job title
  • Are they new to #peacehacks?
  • What kind of hacker are they? Examples: Developer. Designer. Data Scientist. Topic expert. Project Manager. Advocate. Media
  • How they heard about the event
  • A bit about themselves (free form question)
  • Special needs/requests

The more information you can gather ahead of time the better planning you can do., but don’t overdo it – the more questions you ask, the more likely someone won’t sign up.

Find helpers

If you expect many participants to attend, you may want to have helpers around to help participants that get stuck or for general logistic support. Plan for at least one helper for every 10-20 participants, and give them shifts, remembering that the busy periods are registration and meal times.

Find judges

One things #peacehackers love is having their accomplishments fed back on at the end, so get a panel of experts involved. Try and make the panel diverse – a panel full of peacebuilders can only judge half of the achievements in the same way as a panel full of technologists. Strike a balance between the two. We find that a panel of at least 3 works well. One of the panelists could be a sponsor.

Email attendees

You may want to email the registered attendees at this point with as much of the logistics information as you know, so that they can plan ahead or even some sort of community platform/forum where participants can get engaged before the event. But again, don’t expect too much from them before they’ve met you – it could scare them off.

Think about how you will tell your story

Part of your event’s lasting impact is in how people will remember it:

Acquire supplies

You should bring to the event:

  • Paper, markers, and tape to write and post signs with
  • Name tag stickers and markers for people to write their names on their name tag
  • Note cards, pens, paper and other supplies to faciliate project planning
  • Plastic cups, paper plates, and disposable utensils if you are providing food
  • Additional extension leads for power

Also…

  • Place any food catering orders
  • Email any journalists you know who may be interested in the event
  • Charge your camera so you are ready to take photos
  • Some venues require a list of participants for security and a list of organisers mobile numbers in case of emergencies

Email attendees again

Walk-through

Do a walk-through of your venue. Ensure you have:

  • Banquet tables for hacking, rectangular tables for workshops
  • Enough chairs (count them!)
  • One power strip per table
  • Working wifi
  • Working projector and VGA dongle (maybe even test your computer) or even a dedicated laptop for presentations
  • A microphone, at least in large rooms

Email blast

Send out a logistics email to registered participants. Include:

  • Your contact information, including your cell phone number so participants can call/text you if they cannot find the venue
  • Any pre-event and post-event happy hour information: location, date, time
  • Start and end dates and times of the event
  • Location of the event (address and building name), exact location of entrance, directions, and map
  • Reminder to bring ID if the venue has a security check-in
  • Reminder to bring a laptop and charger
  • What food/beverages will be provided and when (breakfast, lunch, dinner?), and what restrictions will be accommodated (vegetarian, etc.)
  • If there are any disability acessibility issues with the venue, include that
  • Names of the organisers and acknowledgement/thanks to sponsors

Handouts

Print handouts for participants that include:

  • Wifi info (SSID and password)
  • The event’s hashtag and URL
  • The schedule (start time, lunch, end time, and workshop schedule if applicable)
  • A list of breakout rooms
  • Recommend nearby locations for lunch/dinner (and include a map if possible)
  • A short URL (e.g. bitly) to the tumblr or hackpad page

Print one copy per table (i.e. one copy for every ~5-10 participants).

Also

  • Prepare slides for the welcoming session (if you want)
  • Charge your phone. It is going to be a long day tomorrow.

#peacehack schedule

When you arrive early

  • Make sure things are OK: tables/chairs are there, the projector works and any facilities are clean and are in working order
  • Post signs from the main entrance of the building to where participants should go first
  • Post signs to any rooms participants may need to go to (Toilets, kitchen, fire escapes etc)
  • Lay out the name badges. If they are printed with names, lay them out alphabetically and if there are a lot group them by part of the alphabet and post signs.

Welcoming session

Start with a brief session welcoming everyone and laying out the day:

  • Introduce the organisers
  • Thank the venue and sponsors (do not forget anyone — this is why they sponsored you)
  • Explain the history and purpose of the event
  • Mention the code of conduct (again, the point is often to set norms, not merely to enforce rules)
  • Ask who has not been to a #peacehack before, or to your particular event before; give an applause
  • Explain logistics: the tumblr or hackpad, the schedule of workshops, lunch, end time
  • Encourage people to take and share session notes and to record progress on projects (see the notes above on telling the #peacehack’s story)

In a small event (up to about 30 people), you can have all of the participants introduce themselves.

Introducing the problems

After the initial introductions and housekeeping, start the event with your experts delivering the problem statements, explaining the issues around the theme of the #peacehack.

Getting into teams

Once the problem statements have been presented, it’s time for the participants to get into teams. Most of the participants will naturally form groups, but be on hand to make sure those without a group are either put together or placed within other groups they are comfortable with.

After a short amount of time (half an hour or so) teams can start their project pitches.

Keep each pitch short: the leader’s name and affiliation, a problem statement, the solution, and the skills/help needed. Project leaders tend to talk for as long as they can, so you may need to cut them off after one minute to be respectful of the audience’s time. Encourage leaders to think of this not as recruiting but as boasting how awesome their day is going to be. Don’t be surprised if some participants change groups after the pitches!

During the day

Keep people on the overall schedule. Alert everyone when it is time for lunch and one hour before the final session. Leading up to that, make sure each project is prepared to explain what they did. Get them to record their progress on a shared live blog.

Presentations and judging

The final session gives everyone a chance to hear what everyone else worked on during the day.  Have each project report on its accomplishments. If possible, let them show their work on the projector. But keep things quick. By this point projects may have a lot to say. Keep each project to 1 or 2 minutes, and if they are going to show something on the projector make sure it is ready before the final session begins. Allow time for the panel to discuss their choices and plan for something whilst they do that (an activity, a final networking drink etc.)

Finally:

  • Thank the venue and sponsors
  • Thank the attendees and co-organizers
  • If there is a post-event, direct people to it or ask a volunteer to lead people over

Tear-down

Finally once all of the participants are gone, make sure the venue is returned to its original state:

  • Clean up
  • Remove signs
  • Check for lost items

Post-mortem

After the event:

  • Write down everything that went right so you can repeat it next time
  • Write down everything that went wrong so you can avoid it next time
  • Compute how much the event cost in total and per participant, just to know
  • Survey the attendees about what they liked and didn’t like
  • Blog about the event

Last words

Congratulations! You’ve run your first #peacehack! We hope you got as much out of it as the people taking part.

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