Solving complex educational problems, from curricular reform to improving the clinical learning environment, requires creative thinking to generate innovative solutions.1–3 Participant time and investment often are barriers to meaningful engagement, particularly in residency training programs.2 “Hackathons” offer a novel structure to tackle complex program challenges by employing the concepts of design thinking4 to engage residents and faculty in collaborative educational problem solving.
What Is Known
Hackathons are events in which individuals work in teams for short, predefined periods to propose solutions to challenging problems. Initially used in the technology industry to propel innovation, hackathons have been adopted in academic settings for rapid-fire idea development.3 The goal is to create a collaborative atmosphere in which participants explore new ideas, experiment with possibilities, and strengthen bonds within their community.3 Each team works toward a deliverable solution, then pitches their ideas to a panel of judges. The winning teams are awarded prizes. The approach is meant to generate fresh ideas and new prototypes that can serve as catalysts for program evolution.2 We outline the key elements needed to implement a successful, small-scale hackathon in a residency program or graduate medical education committee using the annual program evaluation as an example (table).
How You Can Start TODAY
Gather a repository of complex problems that need attention in your residency or fellowship program.
Obtain a commitment from leaders that “results” will be considered for program changes.
Identify existing forums in which a hackathon format is feasible.
Cocreate hackathon objectives, questions, and scoring rubrics with stakeholders.
Invite judges and team participants outside of your usual working group to offer fresh perspectives.
Successful hackathons have:
A thought-provoking question that piques participants' interest and lacks an obvious solution.
A collaborative culture that encourages creativity, experimentation, and participation.
Diverse participant teams to leverage the power of divergent perspectives.
Scoring rubrics emphasizing deliverables that are innovative, feasible, sustainable, and relevant.
What You Can Do LONG TERM
Develop action plans for hackathon deliverables that will lead to program changes.
Formulate working groups to take ideas forward after the hackathon has concluded.
Revisit hackathon proposals to spark innovation and encourage evolution throughout the year.