Introduction: How to Create a Science Hack Day

Picture of How to Create a Science Hack Day

(photo by Matt Biddulph)

Science Hack Day is a 48-hour-all-night event where anyone excited about making weird, silly or serious things with science comes together in the same physical space to see what they can prototype within 24 consecutive hours. Designers, developers, scientists and anyone who is excited about making things with science is welcome to attend – no experience in science or hacking is necessary, just an insatiable curiosity.

People organically form multidisciplinary teams over the course of a weekend: particle physicists team up with designers, marketers join forces with open source rocket scientists, writers collaborate with molecular biologists, and developers partner with school kids. Science Hack Day is inherently about mashing up ideas, mediums, industries and people to create sparks for future ideas, collaborations and inspirations to launch from.

Step 1: Familiarize Yourself With the Spirit and Guidelines of Hack Days

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The mission of Science Hack Day is to get excited and make things with science! A Science Hack Day is a 48-hour-all-night event that brings together designers, developers, scientists, citizen scientists, web geeks and anyone with good ideas in the same physical space for a brief but intense period of collaboration, hacking, and building cool stuff. Science Hack Day strives to create events that are filled with people from all different backgrounds - no prior experience in science, hacking or coding is necessary to attend - just an enthusiasm to make things that bring science and technology together! Science Hack Day is not an organization, it's a grassroots global network of volunteers. Science Hack Day is intended to be a completely free event for people to attend. Ideally, the event provides free breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and a dinner on Saturday - this allows attendees to be focused on hacking rather than where to find food. Free attendance and free food is achieved through the gracious support of sponsors and ideally a venue that offers their space for free as an in-kind sponsorship.

Here's a video of what Science Hack Day is like:

Step 2: Add Your City to the Wiki

The wiki has an ongoing list of cities that are interested in organizing a Science Hack Day. If your city isn't listed yet, edit the wiki to add your city to the list. On your city's page, please include your contact information and any details/thoughts you have on organizing the event so far. If your city is already listed, add your contact information on the city's page and try to get in touch with the other interested organizers so that you can join forces! If you have any trouble editing the wiki, consult the wiki FAQ.

Step 3: Recruit Your Co-organizing Team

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Whether it's people who will actively help you organize the event or just a group of friends who agree to give you feedback along the way, having a trusted circle of people who can help in their spare time leading up to and during the event is key. Once you've recruited your team and read through these 8 steps, organize a kick-off meeting to discuss what you all see as being the scope, logistics and immediate action items for the Science Hack Day. Be sure to cover: the big picture of what you want the event to be, how to get a venue and sponsors, event logistics and budget (food is usually the largest expense), next action items (be sure to assign responsibilities!) and anything else you've got in mind.

Step 4: Find a Venue and Set a Date

Hardly anything can be planned until you lock down a venue. Obtain a venue for free in return for an in-kind, top-tier sponsorship. Offices and coworking spaces that you have a relationship with or have friends working at often are good places to start asking. While you're venue hunting, be sure to pay attention to capacity limits and how the space can be arranged to allow for people to spread out. Other things to keep in mind: ability to spend the night in the venue, overall comfort to spend 48 hours in, proximity to public transportation, how safe the neighborhood is, comfortable seating, power outlets, and if you're going to need to rent wifi to support the number of attendees you're planning on. When you do find a venue, ask about if their internet connectivity can support the number of attendees you plan to have, if security/insurance is necessary (usually venues will just cover this under their own existing plans), agree on what the clean-up plan is, and talk about if you need to sign an agreement. Since any donated venue space is considered a sponsor of Science Hack Day, ask for them to sign a sponsor agreement. Once everything is figured out, agree on a date (ideally a Saturday and Sunday that's ~3-4 months away) and update the wiki with the official date.

Step 5: Begin Planning the Event

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(photo by Matt Biddulph)

Be organized! You will quickly find out that the event takes quite a bit of organization. It's recommended that you create a private wiki using PBworks to organize information for yourself and any co-organizers. Record things like meeting notes, potential sponsors, potential venues, to-do lists, miscellaneous ideas, logistics, cost estimates, co-organizer responsibilities, event schedule, judging structure, email templates to send to attendees, etc.

Set a date. It's recommended to set a date at least 3 months in advance to allow for planning, acquiring sponsors and promotion.

Estimate all costs. Science Hack Day is a free event to attend and provides 5 free meals, snacks and refreshments for all attendees so that everyone can focus on hacking (lessons from SHD London: less beer, more juice and caffeine; less junk food, more fruit). Providing enough food, snacks and refreshments for everyone at all hours will take up the majority of costs. Science Hack Day SF 2010 hosted ~100 people with the total event cost of $3800 USD; Science Hack Day London hosted ~100 people with the total event cost of $6500 USD. Science Hack Day SF 2011 hosted ~200 people with the total event cost of $11,000 USD. Figure out what the minimum cost of the event is by estimating all the necessities. Also figure out what your "nice to have" budget would be if you're able to obtain enough sponsorship to cover extras like tote bags, stickers, prizes, etc.

Create a website and wiki section. Create your own site or contact ariel@sciencehackday.org about having a Wordpress blog installed for http://sciencehackday.com/yourcity/ and getting access to use the @sciencehackday Twitter account.Start blogging before the event! Update people on the status of planning, create a call for sponsors, point to interesting things that could be used or inspire people for your Science Hack Day.Create a section on http://sciencehackday.pbworks.com for your city - you'll probably want to have pages where people are encouraged to list and sign up for ideas leading up to the event. Once you've set a date for the event, contact ariel@sciencehackday.org to be listed on the front page of http://sciencehackday.com.

Find sponsors. Create a sponsorship prospectus based on your cost estimate (e.g. 3 sponsor levels could be $500, $2000 and $5000, see example sponsorship prospectus). Publicly promote that you're looking for sponsors and actively reach out to various organizations.

Set-up attendee registration method. Decide what your attendee sign-up limit is before you have to add people to a waitlist. It is normal to expect ~25% drop-out rate from the total number of people who sign up, so you might want to set your sign-up limit slightly higher than your venue capacity. Decide when you want to open registration (recommended time: ~6 weeks before the event). We recommend using Eventbrite so you can have an easily organized public list of all the confirmed attendees (and maybe their Twitter accounts) so that they can find each other easily.

Recruit a panel of judges and create competition categories. Create a few competition categories for people to be interested in (examples: best use of data, best design, people's choice award, best hardware hack, etc.)

Schedule and Lightning Talks. Here's an example Science Hack Day schedule. It's recommended that you keep introductory talks to a minimum. In the introductory talk, mention your motivations for organizing and what the general spirit of Science Hack Day is, tell attendees not to worry if they don't find a team within the first couple of hours (much of the event is about eavesdropping and asking people what they're working on), housekeeping (bathroom locations, wifi, spending the night), the event schedule, and thank sponsors. Lightning talks (15 min. talks) should ideally happen in separate rooms so that people can begin hacking as quickly as possible if wanted. Lightning talks should directly relate to the event: someone presenting a dataset that can be used, a programming language that can help, a hack idea that could recruit more people to work on it, etc.

Demos and Judging. At the end of the event, all hacks should be presented very quickly (~120 seconds, depending on number of attendees) - be sure to plan time accordingly (e.g. if there are 30 hacks at 120 seconds each, the presentations will last *at least* an hour not including time for fumbling around or technical difficulties. Be thoughtful about how long everyone will be willing to sit still. The short timing often makes the presentations fun - especially if the countdown is projected on a wall for everyone to see. Build in time for the panel of judges to decide which teams win which competition categories and for the attendees to submit their vote for the "People's Choice Award".

Step 6: Promote the Event and Invite Awesome People

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(photo by Matt Biddulph)

Once you've found a venue, set a date and opened up registration - start promoting the event! It's also helpful if your website for the event explains what a Science Hack Day is and what the schedule looks like. If you haven't opened up attendee registration yet, ask people to save the date and communicate when you plan to open up registration.

Create a seed list of various local people you know would make the event awesome and would bring much needed diversity to the event. Be sure to spend some dedicated time brainstorming people who are: already familiar with unconferences or hacking culture (they can help those unfamiliar with Hack Days at the event), scientists, hardware hackers, designers, developers and enthusiastic people in general (ask around if you don't know of any people from one of these areas). Among those you brainstorm for your seed list, make sure you're including a large group of women, minorities and people of all ages - Hack Days often trend to be mostly white male software developers in their 20s and 30s. The most efficient way to create an inclusive and diverse event is to take the time to personally send invites interesting and diverse people. Here is an example invite email.

Step 7: Communicate With Registered Attendees Before the Event

It's the organizer's responsibility to set the attendees up for success so that they feel comfortable upon arriving at Science Hack Day. Ideally, aim to send 2-3 emails to the attendees before the event. Potential emails can be: confirming their registration, encouraging attendees to add rough hack ideas to the wiki, and sending an everything you need to know email (should be sent out a few days before the event starts). You should also consider if it makes sense to organize an informal pre-Science Hack Day meetup at a public place so that attendees have an opportunity to meet one another before the actual event begins.

Step 8: Send Thank You's and Get Some Sleep!

After the event - sleep! You've earned it. When you recover from all the awesomeness, write a blog post summarizing the event/hacks and be sure to send thank you notes to everyone who helped make the event an amazing experience!

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Bio: Hacker of space exploration + maker of massively multiplayer science: @spacehack @sciencehackday @spaceprob_es. Advisor to @NASAIAC.
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