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What is a scope-a-thon?

Learn more about this strategy to co-design open data solutions with community members.
A scope-a-thon is a day-long collaborative event where technologists and problem-solvers get together with local community organizations to understand their challenges and develop relevant tech and data solutions.
Participants aim to scope a solution with community partners or clients, who are often representatives for organizations working on local community issues. Similar to a hack-a-thon, a scope-a-thon focuses more on problem definition than on building a finished product. Scope-a-thons present a unique opportunity to dedicate time and effort to understanding community practitioners who are already working on local challenges before developing solutions to help them.
While "sprinting" to end products works for the technological development community, applying data and technology to big social issues requires more intention, place-based context, and an understanding of organizational constraints. That's why many scope-a-thons begin with presentations by community partners, or informational roundtables to help technologists get up-to-speed on issue-based background.
Hosting a scope-a-thon can help to unite organizations and individuals across sectors to focus in on the needs, challenges, and opportunities for data use in solving local issues. Scope-a-thons can be a great showcase for open data as a problem-solving tool and can be framed like a competition where the winning participants get a prize to implement their plan to address their client's issues.
Hosting a scope-a-thon may well be the key to uniting technologists, data experts, social workers, teachers, service providers, activists, and students in your community to brainstorm data-driven solutions to local issues.

A model that took off in Chicago

In 2015, South Side Civic, a student organization at the University of Chicago, hosted the first annual Civic Scope-a-thon to help local community-based organizations work with students at the Harris School of Public Policy, the Department of Computer Science, and local technologists to solve organizational challenges using data and technology.
The first Scope-a-thon was created to give organizations committed to social change in Chicago an introduction to local tech and data capacity, and to give them a space to problem-solve together. The intent was to combine the expertise of organizations working on the ground in neighborhoods with the brains and hands nearby at the University of Chicago.
Civic Scope-a-thon, October 2017
The Sunlight Foundation had the pleasure of attending the third annual Civic Scope-a-thon in October 2017 in Hyde Park, Chicago. This playbook is based on the model piloted by South Side Civic to coordinate that event.
South Side Civic organizers reviewed this playbook before publication. We are grateful to them for sharing their time, expertise, and exemplary work. South Side Civic organizes locally at Chicago's ChiHack Night, a collaborative space for civic hackers and open data enthusiasts to come together around solving local issues.