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The Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon

This idea is a part of The Future of Nordic Manufacturing

July 30, 2017

"– An active learning approach for effectively navigating the challenges and opportunities that Nordic manufacturing companies face in the new digital economy.

1. Description of idea
Background & Context
The manufacturing industry is currently undergoing dramatic transformation at a previously unseen pace. While the last wave of manufacturing in the 90s and 00s called for offshoring facilities to countries with low labor costs, the ongoing rapid digital transformation has made automation, customer-proximity and rapid prototyping the center of the conversation. Technological development happens so quickly these days that corporates and professionals struggle to keep up on knowledge and competencies. This is also a challenge for the public business consultants who advise manufacturing companies throughout the Nordics in how to exploit new technological and market opportunities into their businesses, while effectively navigating in a rapidly transforming industry landscape with many new challenges.
There exists many learning resources available – web sites, online courses, books – but it is difficult for public consultants to know where to direct their attention. Additionally, if the knowledge they have gained is not directly applied in a practical setting, the risk that it will be forgotten is high.

The idea in essence
The overall idea is to create a quarterly-run “Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon” for all the public consultants in scope, as well as invited students and representatives from manufacturing companies, centered around the use of new technologies, current market developments etc. The hackathon is the culmination to a quarter where learning has been ongoing through both self-learning methods and seminars. Thus, it serves as the backbone to facilitate learning by both being in itself a very effective active learning approach as well as a medium to build an ongoing focused conversation among the public consultants about the most interesting developments in manufacturing.

Content & Organization
The Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon concept is structured around quarterly themes. Every quarter a new topic highly relevant for Nordic manufacturing companies is introduced. The theme should be structured around an interesting topic and an accompanying challenge, for example:
- Modern laser technology in a manufacturing context – How can manufacturing companies use modern laser technology such as Laser Additive Manufacturing to improve products and processes?
- 3D printing – How can 3D printing technology help manufacturing companies?
- Intelligent manufacturing – How can AI approaches such as neural networks be applied in a manufacturing context?

In order to diffuse knowledge about the theme as effectively as possible, the following elements are employed:
1. Continuous Self-learning. The Public consultants are encouraged to study the theme themselves and through an available 'study-guide' website online given access to resources to increase their knowledge on the issues at hand such as relevant books, articles, websites, podcasts and MOOC (i.e. Massive Open Online Courses such as Coursera or Edx). Additionally an internal social network group is set up on Yammer, Slack or another suitable social work platform where all the public consultants can participate in a conversation about the theme and inspire each other.

2. Regular seminars. Experts on the theme topic and manufacturing companies with interesting case examples are invited to come and speak at a central location for the public consultants 1-2 times during the quarter. The seminar is transmitted live online to those who are not able to attend. An example of a seminar could be a representative from a company who talks about their experiences using additive manufacturing (i.e. 3/4D printing) in their processes.

3. The Quarterly Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon. At the end of each quarter, all the public consultants are invited to a ½-day hackathon where they are to solve a problem directly related to the theme in teams of 4-5 participants each.
In order to form diverse teams where everyone has something unique to contribute to the problem-solving process, the public consultants are placed in teams together with representatives from selected manufacturing companies as well as university students with relevant fields of education (it might be design students, engineering students, business students, liberal arts students, or some combination depending on the topic). Furthermore, a knowledge self-assessment for the public consultants is conducted prior to the hackathon, ensuring that different knowledge levels regarding the respective topics are distributed across all teams.
The best ideas are awarded and used as best practice cases. It is important to highlight that the competitive aspect is not the main focus for the hackathon (although it will be beneficial to have some kind of award for the winning ideas) – rather it is for the consultants to learn and get a more practical view of the topic at hand.

2. Why this solution is effective
There exists many different learning approaches which organizations employ at scale. The problem with many of these methods is either that they are not very effective, very expensive or even both ineffective and expensive at the same time. An example of a popular learning approach which can be problematic are the traditional company-run courses which typically run from a couple of hours up to 2-3 full days. The problem with these courses is two-fold: first, the courses do not typically invite the participants to reflect and prepare about the topic before the course has started. Second, the participants are not given room to use the knowledge which they have gained after the course has ended, at least not in an adequate manner. In sum, the courses never become part of the ongoing conversation within the organizations, and the knowledge diffused quickly dissipates.

The Nordic Manufacturing hackathon idea is founded on the hypothesis that the best way to infuse new knowledge is to make the learning practical in nature and as close to reality as possible. Research strongly supports the notion that this is most effectively done by engaging in a collaborative and cooperative learning environment where students are expected to apply their knowledge actively through problem-solving . Through employing a quarterly theme format, the public consultants are allowed space to focus their attention intensely on one subject matter, and help themselves and their colleagues to build up knowledge around the topic at hand during the quarter. Combining passive learning distributed over a whole quarter (self-study and seminars) with an intense active learning session (the hackathon) to conclude a topic gives the public consultants both the opportunity to gain background knowledge about the topic at hand in their own pace while also getting a more practical perspective on the topic.

3. Case examples
Hackathons are typically associated with Silicon Valley based tech companies such as Facebook and Google, but many companies today use hackathons to generate new ideas and spark innovation within their organizations . Good ideas definitely can be an outcome of a well-run hackathon, but often times the ideas are difficult to apply in practice, and it is definitely not all teams who end up with good ideas.
Learning is certain to happen to all the participants involved in a hackathon. While the learning aspect has not traditionally been emphasized at hackathons conducted in a corporate setting, schools and universities have started to notice how the set-up is an ideal setting for promoting learning and there exists numerous examples of this .
A good example of a company which has actively used hackathons to both create spark new ideas internally is the toy manufacturer Hasbro. Hasbro invited the public to come in and work with their internal developers on developing new games and toys using groundbreaking technology. Hasbro reported “extreme excitement” internally through the work the internal developers work did with talent from outside .

4. Implementation paths
In order to get the Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon concept up and running, The following elements are critical in the implementation:

1) Set up project organization and secure funding for pilot. First of all, a project organization should be established consisting of:
• A strong steering committee with 5-6 representatives across the organization
• A project team with 1 project lead who has the mandate to spend a significant chunk of his or her time on developing the format further, and with 3-4 project assistants who work on the hackathon as a side project
• An advisory group consisting of 15-20 representatives across the organization and the industry who can come with vital input to the Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon
2) Conduct pilot programme. In order to test the feasibility of the hackathons as well as “do’s and don’t’s”, it is recommended that a pilot programme is undertaken where the quarterly hackathon format can be tested in a small setting.
3) Document best practices, adjust concept format and secure funding for a large scale implementation. After the pilot programme has concluded, learnings and best practices should be documented and a project plan and business case should be presented concerning the project. The concept is adjusted based on available funding as well as the intended benefits
4) Scale to all public consultants in scope throughout the Nordics. When the format has been tested adequately and the concept has been refined, it is recommended that it is scaled so all public consultants can enjoy the format.

5. Expected benefits
The Nordic Manufacturing Hackathon concept will give the following benefits to all the stakeholders involved:
- Build a strong knowledge foundation among the participants
- Generate excitement among public consultants. Having a quarterly event to look forward to generates excitement among the public consultants
- Increase collaboration between the stakeholders
- Create new ideas for innovations in the manufacturing industries"