Hackweek Projects

The purpose of hackweek projects is for participants to gain hands-on experience in working together on a well-defined problem. In a small group setting we explore skills needed to navigate technical and social challenges of building collaborative relationsihps with the aim of solving complex challenges. Research shows that this collaborative work increases the liklihood for innovation and creativity.

Our wiki pages provide in-depth project guidelines and details on project management. Here we offer ideas on how to facilitate the project work so that participants can make the best use of their time.

Forming Project Teams

One of the biggest challenges in getting started on the projects is deciding which project to join. One approach to pitching and selecting projects that has worked well across multiple hackweeks is described below.

Introduction to Projects and Hacking

We begin with a short presentation describing the purpose of the projects. We remind participants that this is not an activity that will be graded, and that learning the process of collaborative software development is more important than generating any specific products or outcomes at the end of the week. We talk through the various roles and responsibilities of project team and data science leads, as well as of each individual in the group. We also describe the appropriate scope and depth of the projects, and talk about the collaboration tools to be used during the week.

Generating Project Ideas

Participants are now given some time to brainstorm on project ideas. We use either Impromptu Networking or 1-2-4-All, using an invitation such as, "What data science challenge would you like to make progress on this week?", or "What problem could this group make progress on in the coming days?". This session should last 20-30 minutes, giving people enough time to share ideas and gain additional clarity on an idea that might have been brewing for some time.

Project Pitching

After having a series of conversations we invite anyone who is ready to pitch an idea to come to the front of the room. First we have an instructor model the project pitch, which should be succinct, clear, and have a duration under one minute. At the end of the pitch we ask the person for a one word project name, which we then write on a large sticky note. One instructor also takes notes on a whiteboard so everyone can keep track of ideas being presented.

Team Formation

Each person who pitched an idea now takes their large sticky note and finds an area in the room to post the note, effectively setting up a temporary station where additional conversations can be conducted. Participants are then invited to walk to any station that interests them so that they can find out more information. This structure is a condensed version of Shift and Share and generally lasts 20-30 minutes.

Often during this process, small teams will recognize areas of overlap with other teams and may decide to merge. Or, teams that have a lot of interest might split into a series of smaller teams. Generally the optimum team size is 4-7 people, but we have had smaller and larger teams that have worked as well. At this time, anyone who is still looking for a team can consult with an organizer and have additional discussions to aid their decision process.

Team Introductions

Once teams are formed they gather together at a chosen location to begin working together. We invite each team to begin by getting to know each other. Waterhackweek accomplished this by having "Participant Bios" prepared in advance that included a picture of the participant, their name and institution, and space to write about their background and coding experience. Two additional prompts on the page were: "I want to contribute..." and "I want to focus my learning on...". These forms were then shared within each team as a way to accelerate connections and minimize the liklihood that individuals get left out of group activities.

Developing Positive Team Interactions

The first few hours of a team's interactions can be critical in setting the tone for effective communication and collaboration. What often occurs is teams begin diving into the details, perhaps out of an excitement for the material they are working on. Or, there may be one team member who is particularly vocal and who may, intentionally or not, dominate the early phases of the project time.

We recommend that the data science and project team leads should play an active role in facilitating the development of team interactions that include everyone on the team, and that help people rapidly find project activites that align with their skills.