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The Data Swap

A project celebrating the emergence of civic data, and the possibility of equitable hackathons

How might we develop a brainstorming & rapid prototyping experience that invites inclusive participation with equitable outcomes for both organization and participant?

My Role

I created our brand identity, built our promotional site, led the event design, and assisted in managing the participants through the process.

My duties included:

  • Identity/Branding

  • Visual Design

  • Web Design/Development

  • Event Planning/Management

  • Project/Product Management

  • Copy Writing

The Problem

Walk through the trends that led to this seminal event.

Google Trends: "Hackathon"
Google Trends: "Big Data"


Mis-aligned institutional schedules and limited funding

Funding was our main challenge. Our institutions paid our salaries, and space was abundant between our various affiliations. But otherwise we were mostly on our own. This lead to an interesting learning experience in incentivization when it came time to think of prizes and winners.

Time became another interesting problem. The academic calendar runs very differently from the business calendar. So while trying to plan and launch the event we had to contend with finals, spring break, end of semester break, etc.

Finally, we had to be careful to brand the event as a more meaningful improvement on the traditional 36-hour hackathon.


Or, What Does Success Look Like?

50 Applicants

5-7 Teams

50% Retention


Event Design and Branding

Planning, designing, and executing on the experiment

Curating Teams
Planning the Event
The Website

Distributed Collaboration

Watch one of our Hangouts-On-Air to see how the group worked between in-person sessions.

Lessons Learned

You may notice some of these come up in Open Knowledge

Timing Is Everything

8 months was much too long. Though I am proud of the 50% completion rate, we knew about 3 months in that the time frame was a bit of an overcompensation.

Work with existing infrastructure

We received feedback from faculty and students that outcomes would have been greater if we had been able to provide classroom credit or otherwise tied the engagement to the student’s academic work.

Money isn't everything

Though we offered no financial prize, we hit all of our success metrics. And satisfaction was high among participants and companies. We generated 74 applicants (50% more than the number we had anticipated) with exceptional credentials and diverse academic backgrounds. At the end of eight months we still maintained three teams of the original six which was exactly 50% retention. Additionally, several of our participants leveraged their time with The Data Swap to secure advanced degrees with Ivy League schools, or placement with competitive fellowships across the country.

Very excited to present findings on Friday re: campaign contributions in MA 08-12, esp in light of today's ruling on McCutcheon. @Data_Swap

— camilla mahon (@camillacaros) April 2, 2014

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