Turn Members Into Hackers (the Good Kind)

Associations can enlist their members to participate in quick-sprint hackathons to help develop new products and services. In exchange, participants get a highly engaging experience. Here’s what one hackathon looked like at #ASAE18.

Not all hackers are bad. Some hack for good. And increasingly, hackathons are becoming a popular way to drive innovation and solve problems.

It may sound high-tech, but these events don’t require much in the way of resources or budget, according to Jamie Murdock, vice president of sales at Experient, who spoke to attendees in a Deep Dive session Tuesday at the 2018 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Chicago.

“Hackathons are what I call beautiful chaos,” Murdock said. “It’s about being messy and creative and channeling that into innovation.”

Your typical hackathon is a 24- or 48-hour sprint with just a few ground rules. Teams must use a specific tool to solve a specific problem. Then, they are left to their own devices to think and build something quickly. Murdock said he likes to incentivize a hackathon with fun prizes to get “competitive juices flowing.”

And while you might think of hackathons as a design or product development method for techies, Murdock said they work for all types of organizations. He cited Redfin, Cornell University, Cleveland Medical, and Hilton as good examples of organizations that host annual or semiannual hackathons.

For associations, hackathons can be a great way to engage members, especially those looking to volunteer through some hands-on work. In return, the participants get a highly engaging experience with nonstop peer-to-peer networking and learning.

A few ASAE members got into the hacking spirit at this year’s Annual Meeting. Here’s how it played out.

Hacking #ASAE18

Over a 24-hour period from Monday morning to Tuesday morning, a group of members met to rethink common component relations techniques, tools, and practices.

Four teams were created before the conference, each with a different component relations challenge to address, and four team captains were designated: Christina Hartle, CAE, director of chapter relations for the Mid-Atlantic Region at American Inns of Court; Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC; Charlotte Muylaert, marketing leader at Billhighway; and Lindsay Currie, director of stakeholder engagement at Regulatory Professional Society.

Currie’s team was tasked with creating a volunteer leadership portal, and in a single day onsite, they designed a blueprint for a digital tool that makes volunteer matching easier. “We decided to build a flexible tool that could identify certain skill sets,” she said.

To get to the finish line, the team used free or easy-to-use collaboration tools, including LinkedIn Groups, ASAE’s Collaborate network, and Google Docs. And while they met for the first time on Monday, they did a lot of remote preparation and groundwork beforehand.

“Start by talking to your team in advance and find a common set of tools to do the work,” Currie said. “Our topics and teams were formed online. We did an online survey to secure our challenge concept and relied on networks to introduce teams to the hackathon concept.”

While most Annual attendees left Chicago with more knowledge and expanded networks, Currie and her team members got something extra: a prototype for a new volunteer leadership portal, which they called Flex.

“It’s named Flex because it’s a tool designed to match members based on specific needs or skill sets,” she said. “It can be used in so many flexible ways, and we hope it makes the volunteering process easier.”

Have you hosted a hackathon to develop a new product or service? How did you involve members? What tips or tricks did you learn along the way? Post your comments below.

(vgajic/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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