hackathon: interdisciplinary ideas

Jan Winjen, Co-founder, Better Ideas Company, Netherlands.

This article was first published in 2019 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 2 no 3

BetterIdeas, based in the west of Germany near the border with the Netherlands, provide an interdisciplinary and open innovation process to help businesses to deliver new product ideas, prototypes and business models.  

They believe interdisciplinarity is crucial to becoming better. Therefore, they organise “hackathons”, which  utilise the creativity of students from a wide range of subject disciplines (engineers, psychologists, designers, economists, marketeers, media designers, software engineers or medical students), in the generation of new, and sometimes unusual, insights to questions, challenges and problems.

Image credit: Better Ideas Company

BetterIdeas believe interdisciplinarity maintains the human elements of creativity – curiosity and cooperation.  They have been working on projects with a range of businesses e.g. consumer good multinationals and engineering SMEs.  

In this article, Fabian Girod and Jan Winjen, explains how their innovative approach was successfully used to support a strategic review involving the Catholic Workers Movement (KAB), a worldwide church movement in the traditions of catholic workers’ associations. KAB Dusseldorf, a 150 year old non-profit organisation, was searching for a sustainable future as an association.

The starting point for this project was that for KAB Dusseldorf its current situation would become unsustainable over the longer term, given that it was dependant on membership fees to fund its activities, and the average age of its members was over 70.   

BetterIdeas were asked to think how KAB Dusseldorf could attract a new generation of members and develop a more entrepreneurial attitude. The project led to a structured transition process for KAB, delivered in 3 phases over 3 years.  The first phase, in the spring of 2018, contained an inner and outer reflection by the association itself.

Image credit: Better Ideas Company

The second phase contained a period of experimentation in 2019. A hackathon, the primary tool for better ideas and solutions, was organised in  5 phases over 3 days. In the last weekend of January 2019,  a team of 10 students from different disciplines (IT, sociology, industrial design and food scientists) collaborated with the BetterIdeas team. 

The hackathon began by exploring and capturing the field of the problem area. Once it had framed the problem, ideation allowed a period of creative idea generation, leading to detailed, concrete solutions. In the last phase, “realise”, the creative ideas were converted into the the final concept.

The results and solutions were presented to the management of KAB Dusseldorf.  In a role play, the new future of KAB, called Impuls, was presented. It included a vision, a work 4.0 impression, a new logo, a first draft of communications and a website; all designed with the aim of sustaining the volunteer support of young generations.

The hackathon enabled lots of new ideas and possibilities to be generated and presented. From 2020, the best ideas are going to be implemented and the new KAB established.  This positive experience demonstrates that entrepreneurship, creativity, youthful passion and interdisciplinarity can combine to provide better solutions for the future. ◼️