“A collaborative environment unique to any other seminar I have attended – Practical take-aways- Open discussion on sensitive issues – I consider this the best seminar I have been to in over 20 years.” – Louis Catuogno, elder

Over three days, February 21-23, 2019, a unique, sprint-like gathering was held in Orange County, California. The happening was designed to promote discussions and brainstorming concerning pressing needs in our churches.

The Inception

A subcommittee of the Teachers Service Team initiated talks centered on thinking of ways our churches could become unstuck. Robert Carrillo, CEO of HOPE worldwide invited seven individuals to convene in San Diego for the purpose of discussing “the development of a collaboration discussion benefitting our fellowship of churches.” During the discussions, the teachers arrived at an event that they felt would allow people from different backgrounds to meet and talk about a way forward. This event would be titled — Hackathon ’19. The September 6 – 7 2018 meetings included eight individuals: Ed Anton, James Becknell, Jennifer Becknell, Robert Carrillo, Michelle Carrillo, Steve Kinnard, Dave Pocta, and Steve Staten.

Collaborative brainstorming across disciplines has been around for almost a century. It has mostly been used during wartime and in technology and aerospace. In the early 2000s computer specialists would gather to participate in “marathons” and share “hacks” in collaborative software coding.The newly termed “hackathon” soon evolved as a collaboration practice used in engineering and various corporations. The nonprofit sector has found favor with hackathon-styled occasions “that bring together many skilled individuals who donate their time and skills to build something awesome.” [1] Robert had been invited to such an event at the United Nations, and he has used this collaborative approach in HOPE worldwide.

In advance of the first ICOC hackathon planning meeting, the attendees read Andy Fleming’s paper, Let Each One Be Careful How He Builds, and other material. During the first evening we discussed two questions:

What ways are weunique and special?”

Why are we here?”

We came to five decisions.

[1] givewp.com/preparing-nonprofit-hackathon/

First, we agreed on the following statement about why we wanted to proceed with a hackathon:

To provide a supplemental platform to address a variety of symptoms in our family of churches including slow growth, lack of spiritual health, general restlessness, as well as generational, multicultural, and cultural tensions.

Second, we also decided to tie the event to a teacher’s service team meeting in order to gain from the group’s insight into the program and decide on qualified specialists to speak.

Third, we came up with a descriptor of the event for use on social media. From time to time it becomes necessary to re-examine some of our long-held assumptions in order to determine which ones serve us well and which ones are increasingly obsolete. The process of retracing the whys of our beliefs and activities can be both harrowing and exhilarating—but nonetheless essential for ongoing renewal. A potentially rewarding practice, called a hackathon, is increasingly used to bring experts and specialists together to tackle organizational issues head on and propose new tested solutions. Join us to engage topics that are often overlooked by the flagships of official conferences and formal communication channels

Fourth, we decided to tackle a variety of challenges, rather than just one (which is more typical for hackathons). In doing so, we would address the issues by using subject matter specialists—those who earned the right to speak on a matter through research, education, profession, or significant life experience. The approach of speaking to a variety of challenges would help us identify which needs resonates with potential participants.

And fifth, we decided that we would not push our first “beta” event very hard. Rather than spend significant money and energies on exceptional branding, advertising, printed material, we would do the minimum and focus on substance and become familiar with the format. In this way, we could pass on our lessons learned for the planning of similar events in the future.

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