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Problem Statement


A hackathon is an event where people come together to collaborate on creating tech that solve real-world problems, so the problem statements are really the driving force behind all the work the students will put into this weekend. These guidelines are meant to help you clearly define your problem statement in preparation to present it to students during the SPARK! Hackathon.


(inspired by the

  • Remember your hackathon audience. In this case, it’s high schoolers who probably have no previous experience with hackathons, but are inspired by the idea of helping solve a real-world problem. One of the most important things we can do is help students make a connection between creating tech and making a difference in the world.
  • Clearly articulate the problem. Your project should have a clear guiding question and even some suggestions for approaches to take toward a solution.
  • Manage expectations. There will not be enough time in the hackathon to come up with a final solution. Help manage the project goals so that participants are able to feel some accomplishments.
  • Embrace failure. Just as important, if not more, are getting through the failures. Celebrate each hurdle that is overcome and if possible, help participants reflect on what they learned.
  • Be prepared for a variety of backgrounds. There should be a list of ready-to-go tasks that anybody could pick up with a few minutes of instruction.

Sample Problem from WillowTree

(all problems should include a Vision, Problem Statement & Approach)


Our environment shapes who we are (especially who we become as we're growing up), but we shape our environment right back. We want to help students find a way to improve our local community for the betterment of all.

Problem Statement

We're not alone in wanting to better our community. Our civic leaders, non-profits, volunteers, and our neighbors have all worked and continue to work to make our community strong. We have a wide networks of parks, libraries, art exhibits, grant programs, volunteer organizations, and more, already set up. Frequently the best thing one can do to help is to support an existing effort.

Technology and design can lower barriers to participation. For instance, it's easier to text someone than it is to write them a letter. How can you use technology to reduce friction around an existing community effort?


We want you to make access and participation in community goods easier. To do so, consider questions like the following:

  • What are the pain points around participation, and how can we reduce them?
  • What are the high points people experience with participation, and how can we enhance them? Applied to public parks, pain points might be difficulty finding the nearest park, not knowing the suggested age range of the playground equipment, and not knowing whether it has water facilities. High points could be social engagement at the park, and technology could help coordinate it to make it easier to happen. That's just parks! Consider our bus system, library system, art galleries, volunteer programs, or even trash can distribution (don't litter!). For those topics with existing efforts at distributing information, how can you use design to simplify and better communicate?

We suggest you pick one community good, map out the experience a participant has (the highs and lows), and work to alleviate a pain point or accentuate a high point. Output can be paper or digital prototypes, a website, or a mobile app. Stay simple!

Be sure to licence your work openly to share with others! For example, you can use a Creative Commons licences to help others learn to create their own networks from your experiences.