Friday, May 15, 2015

How To Get 100 Participants At A Civic Hackathon

The "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" has a limit of 100 participants. That limit was decided on because of available venues and increased expenses associated with more than 100 people.

The goals of the civic hackathon are:
  1. Connect and expand the community of people interested in civic hacking in NE Wisconsin.
  2. Have a successful collaborative activity between the city of Appleton and the region’s TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs).
  3. Catalyze conversations about the value of a participant-driven NE Wisconsin community of civic hackers and the benefits of easily-used open data from cities and other government organizations.
  4. Improve the interestingness and usefulness of publicly-available data from the city of Appleton.
  5. Use a 21st century tool set to improve some aspect of government that’s important to the hackathon participants or to solve problems that government faces.
Why do we want 100 people to participate??

We can best achieve the above goals if we have lots of people participating in civic hacking, have a diverse group of civic hackers with a wide variety of backgrounds, skills and viewpoints, and have people intentionally collaborating on civic hacks. If there are only a handful of civic hackers in NE Wisconsin and very few of them work together, it will be a long time before civic hacking has a significant impact in Appleton or elsewhere in NE Wisconsin. So we want 100 civic hacker participants because of how that large group can benefit NE Wisconsin and us personally as residents of the area.

Why would 100 people participate in the first civic hackathon in northeast Wisconsin??

There are lots more than 100 people in Appleton, the Fox Valley and NE Wisconsin who will participate in the hackathon if they know about it. They'll participate because they want to meet like-minded people and want to work on making their city, country, state or country a better place to live.

If you agree it would be good to have 100 participants in the June 6 event, you might want to know how you can help get that many people to register and show up for an event most people in Appleton haven't heard of before and don't really understand. Here is a list of ways to get 100 participants in an event.

Traditional Promotion and Communications

One way to get 100 people to register and participate in an event is through traditional promotion and communications. This type of general marketing should be done at least four to eight weeks prior to the event so the general population will become aware it is happening and can make time in their busy schedules to participate in the event. Traditional marketing and communication wasn't done for the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015, so below are a couple last-minute ways to make area residents aware of the hackathon and persuade them to register and participate.

Word of Mouth -- Personally Invite People

The most effective way to get more participants for a civic hackathon is for people interested in the event to tell others about the event and to personally invite or encourage them to register and show up at the hackathon. People are at least twice as likely to participate in an event that someone personally invites them to as they are to go to an event they read about in mass media. So my first suggestion to those interested in civic hacking in NE Wisconsin is to tell lots of people you know about the event and encourage them to register soon.

Text, Email or Call

Personal invitations are most effective when done face-to-face. But if you know people who might be interested in this civic hackathon who you won't see in the next week or so, consider texting, emailing or calling them to tell them about the event and to invite them to participate. The convenient aspect of texting or emailing someone is that you can include a link to the Eventbrite registration page and a link to a post from this blog, such as "Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens." And if you talk face-to-face with someone about the event, be sure to follow up your discussion with the above links so it's easy for your friend or acquaintance to register and to learn more about the event.


You can also use Facebook to share the fact that you're excited about civic hacking or that you'll be a civic hacker on June 6 and you're inviting others to join you. For some people, Facebook will be a great way to spread the news about the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015.


Over the next three weeks, if you use Twitter please spread the word about the June 6 civic hackathon. We've had a significant number of people learn about the DHMN and the Appleton Makerspace because of tweeting by Mike Putnam and others. And during the event, please tweet about cool stuff you see or work on during the day. It's likely we'll have a few people show up because they saw a tweet on June 5 or 6 about the civic hackers at Lawrence University...

When you tweet about the event, please use #dhmncivichacks. We hope to build the NE Wisconsin community of civic hackers, and using a consistent hashtag will help connect like-minded people and promote civic hacking in our region.

You can also use #civichacks to connect with a national / global community of civic hackers.


If you post stuff on Google+, use that to spread the word about the civic hackathon and to point people at the event registration page on Eventbrite. There's a pretty high % of tech people and civic activists on Google+, so we might even get more people to register because they heard about it there than because they saw it on Facebook.

Right now we have 19 people registered for the event. Most of those people registered because I personally told them about the event and invited them to participate in the event. Those 19 people know lots of other people. Some of the people they know might want to be civic hackers or might like to participate in the event and learn what civic hacking is.

If all 19 people registered invite a bunch of potential participants they know, they might each get five or six people to register for the hackathon. That would add up to about 100 participants. And even if some of the 19 people bring in less than five new participants, there will still be other people who find out about the event in some other way and register.

Can we get 81 more people to register in the next three weeks??


One of the earliest 'modern day' unconferences, or participant-driven events, was the first BarCamp. As one of the founders of that first BarCamp relates, the entire event was organized and promoted in six days. In spite of the short timeline, they ended up with over 100 people registered for the event and an estimated 200 - 300 actual participants.

A couple BarCamp rules apply to promoting a civic hackathon. One of the original rules of BarCamp is "You do talk about BarCamp." That's the first rule. The second rule is "You do blog about BarCamp." That second rule was written eight or nine years ago when a lot more tech people blogged. But the general concept still applies, and these two rules are as valid today as they were years ago.

Spread the word about the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 with whatever communication channels you prefer and by whatever communication methods are preferred by people you know.

It'll be fun to deal with the chaos of 100 civic hackers on June 6, 2015!!


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