People need more than free pizza to solve problems… Awash in data, an organization — be it a healthcare nonprofit, a government agency, or a tech company — desperately wants to capitalize on the insights that the “Big Data” hype has promised them. Increasingly, they are turning to hackathons — weekend events where coders, data geeks, and designers conspire to build software solutions in just 48 hours — to get new ideas and fill their capacity gap. There’s a lot to be said for hackathons: They give the technology community great social opportunities and reward them with money and fame for their solutions, and companies get free access to a community of diligent experts they otherwise wouldn’t know how to reach. For all of these upsides, however, hackathons are not ideal for solving big problems like reducing poverty, reforming politics, or improving education and, when they’re used to interpret data for social impact, they can be downright dangerous.
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