Hack the Crisis Turkey

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 17 min read · April 20, 2020

Ways to Overcome the Crisis Together

Authors: Emel Pilavcı, Emre Erbirer, Gülnaz Or, Events & Programs, ATÖLYE

Following the diagnosis of COVID-19 at the end of 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it took only three months for it to transform into a pandemic that overtook the world at an unexpected rate. The crisis ushered in new conditions that required sudden and worldwide adjustment, with a multilayered impact on individuals, societies, and systems. The spread of the disease gave rise to a new order, to which everyone had to quickly adapt, replacing routines and comfort zones in many spheres, from healthcare to social life, economy to education. All the while, individuals and initiatives around the world got to work, aiming to create some breathing space amidst the change.

In Estonia, initiatives banded together after the crisis, taking a step toward providing first response by developing a hackathon that offers technological solutions for both the moment of the crisis and beyond. The partnership between Garage 48 and Accelerate Estonia grew to encompass 30 teams working in different fields such as health, education, media, coaching, community curation, and remote working, with more than 860 people generating 96 ideas over 6 hours. In a collaboration between the public and private sectors, the first online hackathon focused on this particular crisis was held from March 13 to 15, 2020. Called Hack the Crisis, the initiative also served as a source of inspiration for the transformative and restorative power of communities in the face of problems. Following the initial show of digital solidarity, many countries began searching for ways to overcome the crisis together during this crucial time when the crisis is quickly gaining ground but can still change its course if the right steps are taken. After the second hackathon was held in Latvia, the initiative went global, with hackathon series taking place in 19 countries, including Turkey. Held on March 21 and 22, 2020, Coronathon Turkey played an important role as the first hackathon held in Turkey to combat COVID-19, bringing together the public and private sectors as well as academia and non-governmental organizations.

At ATÖLYE, we make it our priority to take special precautions toward the improvement of economic and social conditions as well as the wellbeing of the communities involved in our operations. That is why we placed participation and solidarity at the core of Hack the Crisis Turkey, an event which sought to help us discover what new opportunities could be created in the midst of the crisis. This event served as yet another model to examine the communities that came together to face problems after the first hackathon in Estonia, as well as the role of concepts such as borders and time in today's world. ATÖLYE and imece served as coordinators for the event, while ara studio was the facilitator and Coronathon Turkey was the local network partner. Held digitally from March 27 to 29, 2020, the event demonstrated the importance of striking a balance between developing civic strategies on a local scale and joining a global movement to combat the overwhelming societal effects of this unexpected worldwide crisis.

Re-examining the Times

"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time." - Leo Tolstoy

As the effects of the crisis are felt all around the world, many communities, organizations, and institutions have taken steps to mitigate its impact and turn the tide. These steps are part of an organically growing movement of solidarity aimed at supporting the health, safety, and wellbeing of individuals, communities, and organizations. In the case of Hack the Crisis, the series emerged from the inspiration and entrepreneurial spirit of bringing together individuals from different disciplines to produce solutions, and seek ways of transforming an acute problem. Following the editions in other countries around the world, initial steps were taken toward Hack the Crisis Turkey with the goal of endorsing change and solidarity to produce new alternatives. Within one and a half weeks, the project was brought to life, uniting many disciplines such as design, technology, sociology, psychology, healthcare, human resources, management, and communications. The event's focus was providing a new approach to sustain and facilitate the new status quo following the personal, societal, financial, and moral disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Starting on March 19, ATÖLYE got to work researching and defining the scope of Hack the Crisis Turkey, which was incrementally improved after the kick-off meeting on March 22 with ATÖLYE, imece, and ara studio in attendance. Coronathon Turkey, held on March 21 and 22, joined the project as Hack the Crisis Turkey's local network partner. Following the open call announcement on March 23, Hack the Crisis Turkey received more than 400 applications. Stakeholder meetings and task force assignments were completed on March 25. The participation of 56 corporate stakeholders from different industries, spheres, and areas of expertise helped further flesh out the hackathon. Following the completion of interviews with mentors, creatives, and speakers during the final two days of preparations, Hack the Crisis Turkey kicked off on the evening of March 27. Throughout its two-and-a-half-day run, the hackathon hosted 500 participants and 11 open sessions. A total of 40 teams, comprised of more than 130 individuals, received support in developing their project ideas from 120 mentors and creatives. The fact that nearly 800 people could join together around a common goal in such a short time once again reminded us of the war between "patience" and "time."

Internal Ramifications of the Crisis

"Crisis is what suppressed pain looks like; it always comes to the surface. It shakes you into reflection and healing." - Bryant McGill

The COVID-19 pandemic changed just about every aspect of our daily lives, and this divergence led to a breaking point in many areas, from routines to work patterns. Echoes of our lives altered by the virus remind us how important unity and hope are. At the same time, an important question emerged, to be asked at this precise moment: As a community, how might we face the challenges brought by the COVID-19 crisis and encourage the creation of new solutions through collaboration?

The first order of business for Hack the Crisis Turkey was to determine the primary areas where COVID-19 had a direct and overwhelming impact on individuals and communities. Participants whose ideas or projects centered around the chosen themes of "Healthcare and Emergency Response", "Social and Psychological State", "Education and Learning", and "Economy and the Future of Work" worked to develop new applications, products, services, and approaches.

Throughout the hackathon, the teams developed products and services that could streamline healthcare services, information sharing, as well as access to technology and equipment; support and boost the wellbeing of individuals and communities during the social distancing period; make education and learning more accessible for everyone while encouraging increased sharing; enable practices such as remote working and collective digital work within professional life; and mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on individuals and institutions. We framed the four main questions that would serve as a guiding star for our teams to determine their direction and improve their ideas:

Healthcare and Emergency Response: How might we improve emergency response and medical interventions in terms of technology, equipment, logistics, and knowledge transfer for healthcare workers, patients, their relatives, and all healthcare equipment providers?

Social and Psychological State: How might we develop solutions that support individuals and communities in their daily work, increase solidarity, facilitate access to information and materials, and boost their psychology and health during the social distancing period?

Education and Learning: How might we develop learning experiences and mechanisms that enable access to knowledge and skills for different groups of people while increasing and facilitating interaction both during and after the COVID-19 crisis?

Economy and the Future of Work: How might we transform the business world via practices such as suspending work, remote working, and collective digital work due to the COVID-19 crisis? How might we mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on individuals and institutions?

Proper Use of Resources, Trust, and Forming Connections

"Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair." - Dhar Mann

English translation from top to bottom: Why are we here? To develop effective and applicable solutions with the power of various experiences and disciplines; to learn together and benefit from each other's resources.

According to Edelman's 2019 Trust Barometer, which ranks countries in terms of their level of trust in NGOs, business, government, and media, Turkey's 45 points in total places it among countries with a low trust index. Another data point from the same report indicates that 53% of the people living in Turkey believe they and their families will be better off in five years' time. According to Edelman's research, 72% of the population in Turkey believes that companies can improve society and work towards its prosperity. By contrast, there is distrust for NGOs among 57%, and for businesses, among 43% of the population of Turkey - and when it comes to trust in the media, Turkey ranks second-to-last, ahead of Russia.

In light of all this data, and while connected to one another via networks, we made it a priority when designing Hack the Crisis Turkey to use resources properly amidst a crisis and to form connections based on trust - as well as to ensure that our communication is benefit-oriented throughout all this. To that end, we developed a system, designed initially for the coordinating team and then for our stakeholders who believed in us within a short amount of time, the teams who will actively participate in the process, as well as the mentors, creatives, speakers, and participants who will form a network around them. This four-point system aims to help all these groups come into contact with the different aspects of this process in the most appropriate way and to promote sharing based on trust.

Community Curation

The organization team for Hack the Crisis Turkey reviewed all the applications received from teams and individuals, inviting participants to a Slack workspace where they could exchange ideas and form teams if necessary. Individuals were provided with instruction and encouraged to either form a team or join an existing one. By utilizing Slack as a platform to share inspiring content, similar cases from around the world, and resources that could be useful throughout the process, the aim was to create a community that learns from and nurtures one another while working in harmony to generate beneficial products and services.

Below are some of the photos shared on the #çalışmakanalı (work channel) Slack channel:

Some of the photos shared on the #çalışmakanalı (work channel) Slack channel.

Content and Facilitation

The coordinating team worked diligently to put together the event's content and program. The organizational change studio and ATÖLYE community member ara studio created the content for the open sessions, which were designed to assist teams in project development throughout the hackathon. Sessions focused on topics such as design research, digital research, and user research were accompanied by content on subjects like storytelling, developing solutions, and creating an action plan. Additionally, the teams and participants received training on topics like social media communication, digital prototyping, wellbeing and psychology, crowdfunding, and presentation techniques from speakers who are experts in their field.

Example schedule—for visual reference.


Putting together an event within a week and a half - as well as receiving hundreds of applications for said event - undoubtedly required a great deal of communication. Throughout this process, we received the biggest support in communication from our stakeholders. Thanks to our solid partnerships with the public, NGOs, the private sector, and the media, both the Hack the Crisis Turkey event and the open call were featured in the internal and external communications of close to 100 institutions within a very short period of time. This communication not only brought in applications from teams for the event, but it also paved the way for us to set up different support mechanisms, establish a pool of volunteer mentors, and design sustainable capacity-building projects after the hackathon.

Stakeholder Participation

As the organization team, we knew from day one how important it was to embark on our path with the right stakeholders. Here, we once again saw that it was possible to unite around a common purpose the institutions that could support us in areas like participation, communication, mentorship, access to networks and ecosystems - and to do so in such a short amount of time. We received support in different capacities from more than 120 people across nearly 100 institutions from the public, local government, and NGO spheres as well as the private sector and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Moreover, we developed mechanisms that would pair participating teams with the right stakeholders after the program, thus enabling them to turn their ideas into projects and bring them to life.

Developing Hybrid Models Focused on Digital Interaction

"You are the hybrids of golden worlds and ages splendidly conceived." - Aberjhani

In light of the requirements imposed on us by this particular moment and crisis, Hack the Crisis Turkey focused on digital interaction, combining learnings from physical events with the opportunities of the digital world to create a hybrid interaction model. We used the video conferencing app Zoom for the event's major training and discussion sessions, and we opted to use Slack for sharing and interaction. The teams then used Google Slides for project development and presentations.

Screenshot of the Mentors and Creators Slack channel, where mentors introduced themselves and their areas of expertise.

To emphasize the importance of being human and doing things for humanity in the midst of a crisis that impacts us all, we wanted to create a space where people look at and see one another, where they can touch one another's minds and hearts even if they cannot come into contact. That's why we chose to host the training and discussion sessions on a platform like Zoom, which allows everyone to see each other. We underscored the importance of unity and becoming "one" within this synergy during the energy sessions we held to start each day as well as in the closing remarks at each day's end. We also used Zoom's breakout room feature to enable smaller, more contact-based interactions among the large group of participants.

We chose Slack as the place where we began to take our first steps toward building a "community" around Hack the Crisis Turkey, as it provides common ground for instant communication, interaction, and coworking. We created the Hack the Crisis Turkey Slack workspace prior to the event, adding in the individuals and teams selected from the open call to help them become a part of the discussion, interaction, and production. Throughout the event, participants had the opportunity to communicate with mentors, creatives, and the coordinating team via Slack. The organization team also used Slack for all its announcements during the hackathon, with individuals seeking teammates as well as teams seeking new members converging in the #takımkurma (#teamforming) channel. The #mentorlarveyaratıcılar (#mentorsandcreatives) channel saw an abundance of motivating messages from mentors following mentor-team meetings, while all participants contributed the resources they found to the #kaynaklar (#resources) channel. Last but not least, we shared photos of our workspaces on the channel #çalışmaortamı (#workingenvironment) to avoid feeling alone in the midst of all this social isolation and to connect with other individuals in similar circumstances. Even though the hackathon is over, the community we brought together continues to chat, share resources, and stay in touch via Slack.

Impact Assessment and Next Steps

"If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." - Martin Luther

To assess the impact of Hack the Crisis Turkey, we prepared and distributed separate feedback forms for our participants, mentors, and stakeholders. When evaluating the feedback we received from 120 people, we did so by studying the benefits and impact originating from the interaction of individuals from different spheres and with different roles throughout the hackathon. In responding to the impact assessment forms we shared, participants and stakeholders provided positive feedback on the content as a whole, while the teams indicated that support from mentors and creatives had great impact on developing their project ideas.

"Seeing that the individuals we wanted to contact and get opinions from regarding our project were among the mentors and creatives, as well as the ability to quickly get in touch with them, was one factor that greatly expedited the project." (M. T., Participant)

"Thanks to the event, we were able to undertake a very harmonious, high-energy, disciplined, and creative group project." (A. D., Participant)

"From what I observed, Hack the Crisis Turkey had quite the comprehensive scope despite being put together in a short amount of time." (Ç. Y., Mentor and Speaker)

Since the event, the organization team has assessed the projects based on the following criteria: How the project relates to the areas of focus, the harmony between team and project, the solution approach, the need for product, time needed to realize the project, scalability, and sustainability. By focusing on each idea's level of development, its feasibility, impact, and potential for innovation, the team strives to integrate as many teams as possible, working in as many different fields as possible, into the support mechanisms we created throughout the hackathon. Meanwhile, the individual participants who were unable to form teams during the hackathon have been provided with digital resources and tools to track the projects remotely in an effort to ensure that everyone benefits from the process as much as possible - as well as to generate a consensus where different ideas can proliferate one another.

To ensure that the projects emerging from the hackathon are brought to life, we continue to share project outputs with our stakeholders and the public in order to form partnerships for solution ideas. In addition to helping the teams realize their projects via mentorship and coaching, we are also working on a capacity-building program where we can provide support ranging from participation in incubation programs to ecosystem access and funding.

What did we learn?

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." - Aristotle

At ATÖLYE, we adopt an approach that places "learning" at its center in all the projects we undertake as well as the events and programs we organize: We want to learn as a team, learn as a community, and learn as an ecosystem.

Since we envision the learning process as a circle instead of a straight line, we also consider it a part of this cycle to share our learnings with the public and to receive feedback. Below, you'll find our main takeaways based on what we learned from organizing Hack the Crisis Turkey.

  • Enable radical collaborations: Bring together stakeholders, mentors, and creatives from different disciplines and circles, as we can only flourish by being inclusive.
  • Don't be afraid to try and fail: Adapt to rapidly changing conditions with agility. Research, produce, test, receive feedback, change, redo.
  • Be community-focused: As one of the most important elements that strengthen benefit-oriented communities, your "purpose" should be your guiding star, with the community formed around this goal.
  • Define your framework: As you facilitate activities to fill out the project's scope, make sure to determine the steps that help you streamline it all. Ensure commitment to co-production as well as to the process.
  • Mobilize: Mobilize resources and participants; enable individuals to learn from one another as well as from shared resources; set the stage for sharing.
  • Trust: Place trust first in yourself, then in your team, then in the process. Regularly reinforce said trust and share learnings. View feedback as a gift; don't just accept it but celebrate it.

As we envisioned and brought to life in such a short time a space for sharing, production, and solutions - one where we targeted broad participation - we imagined the dynamism and excitement of the process, as well as the opportunities to learn and grow together. Once again, we got to experience the importance of believing in a quickly formed, organic, and participatory system as well as being open to feedback and building trust.

Hack the Crisis Turkey would have undoubtedly been impossible without the support of our stakeholders. We would like to extend our thanks once again to all our partners listed below for their valuable contributions: