Go to main menu Go to search Go to main content Go to footer

Hackathons and challenge prizes: key learnings

By Platform
Person writing on paper

On 17 May 2023, the Policy Learning Platform held a webinar on the topic of Hackathons and Challenges Prizes. Policymakers are increasingly using inducement prizes and hackathons with a challenge-oriented approach to solve regional societal challenges. Hackathons and challenge prizes are flexible policy tools that can engage a broad audience and diverse groups of actors and sponsors thanks to their low barriers of entry. The main objectives of such contests are to orient research efforts and to incentivize the creation of a desired technology.

To ensure the effective design of such tools, it is crucial to identify regional societal challenges and to attract highly skilled solvers. Additionally, public sponsors should also focus on the following elements:

  • Selecting suitable co-sponsors
  • Defining the eligibility of participants
  • Creating the competition’s rules
  • Defining participant’s rights such as regarding intellectual property right issues
  • Setting the awards and their criteria
  • Finding ways to capture the imagination of the public

Hackathons and challenge prizes have been explored in different Interreg Europe projects, and this webinar featured practices and lessons from INNOBRIDGE that aims to accelerate the commercialisation of R&D results, and URBAN M that promotes collaborative makerspaces.

    Webinar recording

    Webinar agenda

    Concept and moderation by Arnault Morisson and Marc Pattinson, Thematic Experts of Research and innovation.

    00:01:02 Introduction to the topic by Arnault Morisson

    00:13:14 Presentation by Luís Carvalho, University of Porto, Portugal, on Amsterdam’s startup-in-residence programme to connect startups to urban challenges

    00:25:46 Q&A: Which city department takes the lead in this initiative? How do you ensure you idenitfy reliable start-up partners? 

    00:29:16 Q&A: Is there are a broader policy insturment that oversees the different challenges? 

    00:33:43 Presentation by Sevdalina Voynova, Director of Programmes, Sofia Development Association, Bulgaria, on Hackathons for solving urban challenges in Sofia (INNOBRIDGE)

    00:51:11 Q&A: Usually a big advantage of hackathons and challenge prizes is to attract a broad range of 'solvers', but you mention a lack of diversity. Have you tried a challenge to attract a broad range of people? 

    00:53:40 Q&A: From a practical point of view, what is the timeline for an idea to appear in your pipeline of hackathons until it reaches policymaking/implementation? What is the process? 

    00:59:16 Presentation by Aritz Torris, Municipality of San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain on Donostia Innovation Challenge (URBAN M

    01:09:46 Q&A: To what extent to you find companies using the initiative to attract talent? 

    Panel discussion

    01:11:39 Q&A​​​​​​​: What mistakes have you made during the designing and implementing of hackathons and challenge prizes? 

    01:20:00 Q&A​​​​​​​: You have all mentioned the importance of a technology driver, are there regular players in your ecosystem that you would regularly turn to and thus recommend others to work with? 

    Key learnings

    From this webinar, we can highlight some key insights for local and regional policymakers:

    • Hackathons and challenge prizes are flexible policy tools that can engage regional actors to address a broad range of regional challenges, e.g. from resolving urban traffic congestion to nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset among high-school students.
    • Hackathons and challenge prizes contribute to agenda setting and the enhancement of regional innovation ecosystems. They support public authorities in identifying crucial regional issues and engaging the wider regional innovation ecosystem, thereby promoting collaboration between public authorities and local stakeholders. Furthermore, they easily generate public excitement and media interest.
    • Hackathons and challenge prizes, however, require significant resources and time efforts. Public sponsors must pay great attention to the design of hackathons and challenge prizes. For instance, the selected challenges must not be too narrow nor too vague. It is important to properly frame the challenge to generate public interest.
    • Hackathons and challenge prizes enable public authorities to explore innovative policy tools and potential solutions. They provide a platform for experimenting with ideas and uncovering opportunities to address place-based societal challenges. Additionally, they can serve as an initial step for engaging regional policymakers in promoting more policy experimentation and designing a comprehensive and inclusive regional policy mix including innovation procurement.

      Effective communication and empowerment of the solvers are essential for public authorities, along with regular reporting to showcase the outcomes of hackathons and challenge prizes.