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Engagement in Practice: Social Performance and Harm in Civic Hackathons

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Community Engagement Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Angela L. Chan University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

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Angela has completed her B.S. Systems Engineering and Design at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and is beginning a M.S. Systems & Entrepreneurial Engineering to focus on design research. She is invested in co-designing with communities, ethical tech and engineering education, and radical empathy.

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Molly H. Goldstein University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Molly H. Goldstein is Teaching Assistant Professor in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She previously worked as an environmental engineer specializing in air quality influencing her focus in engineering design with environmental concerns. Her research interests center on engineering design in undergraduate and precollege settings. She obtained her BS in General Engineering (Systems and Design) and MS in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering from the University of Illinois and PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Civic hackathons are time-bound events where participants develop prototypes and ideas to tackle a social issue. Hackathons are practical tools for experiential learning and can provide opportunities to learn technical skills, network, and generate interest in a topic. While organizers adjust formats to democratize similar events, issue-based hackathons are largely inaccessible to relevant stakeholders and failures to make actionable change in the topic reinforce underinvestment of the populations impacted. Hackathons prize technological solutionism over reinvestment into existing systems, and historical harm is perpetuated by not designing technology with those most disadvantaged. We analyzed multiple attempts to improve hackathons and suggest mindsets and practices for minimizing harm. Organizers should only conduct civic hacks if they have sufficient financial resources and support to create an inclusive event that fosters discourse and tackles systems. Outcomes should be explicit reinvestment into relevant communities. Organizer goals should be better defined to assess whether series of targeted workshops may be more appropriate than a hackathon.

Chan, A. L., & Goldstein, M. H. (2021, July), Engagement in Practice: Social Performance and Harm in Civic Hackathons Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37043

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