Phillip Smith

Connecting the dots of a global movement

The "Why" and the "What" of Hacks/Hackers Connect

(Scroll down for a 6 minute read)

The last few weeks have been full-speed ahead in preparation to announce the dates for the next Connect events. It’s been a great time to reflect on the who, what, when, where and why of this whole thing. The where and when will be announced soon, so I’m going to ruminate out loud here on “Why we are doing it,” and “What we have learned along the way” And then I’m going to ask for your help.

When I first signed-on to help produce these events, I asked Burt a lot of questions. Specifically, I wanted to know how we would measure impact and success. Through that conversation, we committed to three guiding principles:

  1. To connect members to members, and chapters to chapters;
  2. To convene spaces, and to produce experiences, that enable learning, facilitate collaboration, and inspire creativity;
  3. To illuminate a path forward — to “connect the dots” if you will — to local resources and next steps for event participants.

There is also an underlying theory of change about the “future of news, media, and information” that provides the thematic frame for these events:

The belief that the information ecosystem of tomorrow will be heavily influenced by entrepreneurial and upstart activities: new experimental products in market, new risk-taking enterprises, and never-attempted-before civic undertakings.

We are not alone: recent investments, the appearance of several new media-focused accelerators, and a growing number of intrapreneurial “labs” within news organizations point to a similar understanding of one possible recipe for change: experiment, measure, learn, repeat.

Our aspirational objective? To be able to point to unprecedented experiments, products, and teams by the end of 2016.

I say aspirational, because producing Connect is not a walk in the park. Each city that Connect visits is unique: the levels of investment in media entrepreneurship, the relationship to startups and startup culture, and — most importantly — the contours of its Hacks/Hackers community. There is no one-size-fits-all approach or silver bullet for the outcomes we seek. Each event needs to be tailor-made for its audience.

The recipe

Our recipe for these event, so far, is fairly simple:

  • Work closely with local chapter organizers. Empower them to design an event that’s just right for their membership, and to define their own involvement. And to provide the logistical, financial, and facilitation support needed to make it happen.

  • Find the right participants: people who are working in those places where news and technology are colliding every day, and those individuals who have passion-driven ideas about how to change the future of information as we know it.

  • Take this room full of potential co-creators and put them in direct conversation with each other, again and again. To ensure that each participant leaves the event with new connections and new collaboration opportunities.

  • Inspire them, and introduce them to mentors — industry veterans — who share their experiences, as well as the accelerators, incubators, and investors working to support innovation in the space.

  • Provide meaningful and practical opportunities to for these individuals to create together and to learn from each other.

Like most complex recipes — think Baked Alaska, not toast — this also requires careful attention to detail to get right; not to mention an efficient kitchen and many hands.

One might warn of “too many chefs,” and yet we believe that building a great experience is worth the risk, and something that comes from a spirit of enthusiastic co-creation.

In working to convene these spaces, we believe that the process is as important as the product. We are very much in our own “build, measure, learn” cycle: iterating and improving these events at each opportunity. Inching toward that perfect product-market fit.

The potential

The Hacks/Hackers global network is made up of 40,000+ members around the world. There are chapters in more than 75 cities and 35 different countries. These volunteer-driven chapters produce hundreds of professional-development events for their members every year.

These chapters organize talks, demo days, and social events. They organize regular times for like-minded professionals to work on projects together. They organize “hackathons” and some of the largest media innovation gatherings on the globe.

Hacks/Hackers literally reaches into the world’s most forward-thinking newsrooms: their labs, innovation programs, data desks, news app & data visualization teams, and beyond.

This network has grown organically over the last several years and often defies a narrow definition. It is many things to many people. And yet, if it’s defined by any single idea, I believe that idea is makers.” Hacks/Hackers is the people who are making — and those who are driven to learn how to make — a society that is more informed, connected, and empowered1.

I believe there is huge potential in this network.

Today marks almost five years to the day since I started a Hacks/Hackers chapter with some great friends in Toronto. Those friends have gone on to do amazing things, and I’ve made many more new connections at those events over those years. I continue to organize here in Vancouver because I am passionate about what Hacks/Hackers means to me, and what it means to the people who invest their personal time to come out to the events. And I committed to the Connect series for the same reason: I believe in the potential of this network to manifest outcomes that we have yet to even imagine.

The ask

So, perhaps you can tell that I’m a bit obsessed with the potential that I see within this network? Or perhaps you live at this intersection too, and understand the catalytic time that “journalism” is currently living in?

If so, here’s how you can help…

Ask yourself, “Who do you know who:”

  • Who do you know who… is working at the nexus of news, media, and technology and is passionate about about testing out new ideas, and building new teams and products?

  • Is currently getting a new news/media/information-focused startup or product off the ground? And who has done so successfully in the past in your community?

  • Is educating the information-meets-journalism-meets-technology makers of tomorrow? What are the innovative academic programs in your community? The new immersive learning experiences? Who are the people behind these initiatives?

  • And, last but not least… Who is incubating, accelerating, and investing in media in your community? Who are the Matters and Media Factories of your city?

As Connect works its way around the globe, we are organically drawing a map of these resources – resources that will serve as the connective tissue between events, participants, Hacks/Hackers members, and all of the organizations and people that we are able to connect along the way.

You can add to this map simply by commenting on this post, dropping me a note on Twitter, or contacting me directly.

I am grateful for, and look forward to, your contributions.

— Phillip.

  1. To steal a catchy phrase from our friends at


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.

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