It’s been a year since the #WirVsVirus open innovation hackathon was rapidly launched in response to the onset of Covid-19 in Germany.
Inspired by a similar initiative in Estonia, the 48-hour hackathon brought almost 30,000 citizens together online, giving rise to hundreds of creative solutions that continue to blossom a year on.
We didn’t at that time – and still don’t really – know the full toll of the pandemic on society and the economy. But creating from scratch an alliance of public, private and third sector actors to take fast, collaborative action, gave those of us participating hope that even in the face of the greatest of challenges, open social innovation can be a catalyst for positive impact.
Where we go from here
One year on, this alliance is reflecting, regrouping, and kicking off a brand new open innovation hackathon: #UpdateDeutschland. Led by the German Chancellors’ Office, alongside Project Together and N3XTCODER, with Impact Hub Berlin and a huge number of other partners supporting, #UpdateDeutschland will crowdsource solutions to tackle 29 key challenges faced in 2021, from age-ism to xenophobia.
Ahead of the kick-off, and based on the learnings from the comprehensive #WirVsVirus report prepared by the consortium that launched it, here are the four most important building blocks for open social innovation.
1. Enable the broadest possible participation process
While hackathons depend upon the participation of tech-focused developers and entrepreneurs, social innovation requires involving the user at every stage of the journey too. Teachers and carers are on the frontline of many of the challenges we face and their input is invaluable. We also learned the hard way that inclusion and accessibility must come before everything else. The process should allow everyone, regardless of race, ability or any other factor, to participate equally.
2. Encourage rapid, low-risk testing and validation
Decentralised intelligence is an effective tool in facing the high complexity of societal challenges. By having civil society try out many different solutions in parallel and in a coordinated but time-limited way, it’s possible to test what works and what doesn’t quickly and with low risk. Solutions can be constantly adapted according to feedback and validation. This approach is much more promising than working out lengthy, theoretical concepts that are already outdated before they’re completed.
3. Redraw the relationship between the state and the citizens
The open innovation format allows the state to solve problems not only for the citizens, but with them. With their commitment, states can demonstrate innovative approaches to problem-solving and, where it makes sense, incorporate them directly into future policy or actions. Working with citizens and visibly adopting their ideas (as the German Employment Agency did with UDO’s solution for accelerating Kurzarbeit, or furlough payments) builds trust in the long term.
4. Cooperate across traditional boundaries
In an open social innovation process, people work together who have so far usually only cooperated bilaterally, if at all. Hackathons like #WirVsVirus and #UpdateDeutschland and their subsequent support programmes secure partnerships between federal and state ministries, mayors, civil society foundations, private companies and universities. This way of working intensively alongside people from completely different sectors offers infinite opportunities for new ideas to germinate.
The #UpdateDeutschland hackathon, the next chapter in Germany’s open social innovation journey, begins on Friday 19th March 2021. Join us there.