The *Weekend Movement describes itself as “a community of people that builds crafty projects and innovative solutions to real-world problems over weekends.” I was recently in Malaysia, where I had an opportunity to spend time with three of its organizers: Kal Joffres, Brian Ritchie, and Ellyne Lamin. We talked about what is at the core of the *Weekend Movement’s successful approach to what I call “time-bound collaborative innovation,” where talented people team up and race against the clock to build out audacious new products and services.
You can think of *Weekend events as a more general form of hackathons, one rooted in design thinking and rapid prototyping. It does organize a Hackweekend for IT developers, but it also holds events for other audiences, including Makeweekend for designers and Changeweekend for social enterprises and nonprofits. Between 70 and 100 people usually attend each event, but there have been as many as 300 people at a single event. Here is what I learned from Kal, Brian, and Ellyne.
People at *Weekend events don’t talk about ideas over coffee.
People at these events spend their time actually building things—in collaboration with teammates—that can be tried and tested.
It works like this. All projects at events such as Hackweekend are new. Participants pitch project ideas and pick teams at the beginning. Teams then rapidly develop prototypes in just a few hours. In the middle of the event, there is a “checkpoint demo,” where teams present what they have built so far and get feedback and help from experts from the room. Then they refine their prototypes and work toward a larger demo session at the end of the event, which includes people who can potentially support projects going forward.
The goal of the weekend is to foster innovation among youth, showing new makers and doers how easy it can be to experiment and bring their new ideas to life in very concrete ways.
The events have resulted in substantive projects such as:
- Workpad, a distributed work application that received 1 million ringgit (currently about USD$325,000) in funding within a week of its demo
- Malaysiacrime.com, a site used to help track down and address a string of house break-ins that were happening in a Kuala Lumpur neighborhood
- A social carpooling app called Carpool Tunnel that the developers are now working on jointly with a team in Australia
- G2H, a completely pressure-based hydroponic agriculture system that automatically refills itself without the use of electronics
- A prototype of Super Jumper shoes and sandals, which have soles made from a honeycomb of recycled straws
Event participants are selected based on their ability and mindset to contribute.
Events are free to participants, but you have to apply for acceptance. Applicants are selected based on their portfolio of work and referrals, as well as their ability to get along with others—there is a “no [obnoxious person]” rule. The selection process also minimizes half-hearted participants who might bring down others’ energy level. Brian explains, “Everyone comes with a right mindset. They’re not there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m just here to learn.’ They instead say, ‘I’m here to make something happen.’ It’s a very production, execution-oriented mindset that they bring into the weekend.”
Events involve potential project supporters to add post-event value for participants.
Depending on the specific event, venture capitalists, organizations looking to hire, government ministers, and other people who can provide funding, jobs, and resources are invited to observe group work over the weekend. However, they aren’t announced; the organizers don’t want people to participate in the event purely for the sake of connecting with potential supporters. Instead, these “VIPs” can observe how participants work together and watch the development of prototypes built during the event.
With its record of producing results, the *Weekend Movement also attracts a wide range of sponsors. Companies sponsor Hackweekend; private foundations and government interested in spurring creative thinking and innovation sponsor Makeweekend; and foundations and CSR departments primarily sponsor Changeweekend.
*Weekend organizers understand the motivations and interests of their talented participants.
Participants go—and come back—for these five reasons:
1. Social validation and respect for their work from peers who they respect
2. Professional development—learning by doing and getting feedback from peers
3. Potential support from funders and employers
4. It’s fun
5. They get stuff done
Spending time with Kal, Brian, and Ellyne has made me think differently about my own work. We are now using the principles of the *Weekend Movement to put together a program design session for TechSoup Asia. We will convene leading social innovation professionals in the region to rapidly prototype solutions that will help NGOs access and use technology.