Impact Hub Berlin and six other partners first launched the #WirVsVirus initiative almost three months ago.
The initial hackathon, which has grown into multiple support programmes for the participating teams, sparked not only hundreds of ideas but fostered working relationships that continue to flourish.
As well as the more than 27,000 people who signed up to take part in the hackathon, there were almost 3,000 who volunteered as mentors. Their brief was to support the teams to develop their ideas and give critical input.
With online moderation and mentoring ever more relevant in the post-COVID-19 world, we caught up with three #WirVsVirus mentors to hear their tips. All three continued to support the teams after the hackathon itself and throughout the Community Management phase.
“I had kind of a rough start,” Lukas, an eHealth and data protection expert, says of his initiation into the hackathon. As a specialist, finding and connecting with those who needed specific support was a challenge at first. After locating others with similar skills, the mentors got to work in streamlining their communications and collecting resources in a focussed Slack channel.
“You need to focus your attention and to pick between mentoring a team and being a ‘floating mentor’.”
Florian Rathgeber, a tech engineer at Google in the UK, but also now working remotely from his home in Germany, experienced this issue too. (Google have since become a corporate partner of the #WirVsVirus Solution Builder.)
“Probably my biggest mistake was trying to keep up with all the channels and get the whole picture of what was happening… which was of course impossible. You need to focus your attention and to pick between mentoring a team and being a ‘floating mentor’.”
After identifying where to be of most assistance, having patience when supporting participants, who often simply needed directing to the right information source, was important to keep in mind.
Kathrin Helmrich, an IT software marketer with Oracle in Munich, signed up as a mentor in part to make use of the extra time she would usually have spent at the local golf course after it closed due to the pandemic.
“Be proactive!” she advises. “Nobody reached out in the first couple of hours but all the teams that I approached answered.” Active listening to ascertain what each team really needed was important, she says.
This is backed up by Lukas’s experience too. Yes, be proactive, but “think twice before you answer a question,” he adds. Often the team hasn’t correctly identified the issue they’re having. Sometimes reading between the lines to help them understand their problem is necessary.
All three mentors share a positive, ‘can do’ attitude – an overlooked advantage in the challenging timeframe of a 48-hour hackathon. This was something that stayed with them even after the weekend.
“I started to apologise for being too positive!”
“I started to apologise for being too positive in my business meetings the next week” laughs Kathrin. Florian, a self-professed veteran of around 150 hackathons before #WirVsVirus says it was “one of the best” both in organisation and quality of projects. Lukas highlighted the diversity of participants as key to the experience.
Florian found it notable that the hackathon was such a success in Germany, “not exactly the frontrunner when it comes to digitalisation”, in the eyes of some. This was testament to the management of the organising team, the government’s rallying behind them, and – of course – the collaboration between engaged, enthusiastic participants and mentors.