Going the Distance with Makeathons—‘Makers’ Marathons’ Explained

  • April 1, 2019

Everyone pretty much knows what a hackathon is, right? Those events where developers are invited by companies, schools, or other organizations to get together to do a few days of coding. But are you familiar with its creative counterpart, which targets all “makers” out there? We take a look at what’s happening in the burgeoning world of makeathons.

Makers + marathon = makeathon

Makeathons are creative challenges that bring together “makers”—that is, artists, craftspeople, and designers who make and create physical things, as opposed to digital creations. These events are organized by associations, fab labs, and schools, the aim being to bring together “makers” from different backgrounds to reflect on and tackle a single cause together.

A makeathon is a moment of creation, and takes place over a short, predetermined amount of time. Each team is free to create whatever it wants from a preset theme or subject, which is revealed to participants at the last moment, so that they have free rein to improvise. All disciplines can take part, and everyone can interpret the theme in their own way.

Besides being creative and collaborative events, makeathons also have a responsible and ethical aspect. Participants come together to create an object or piece of work that is environmentally friendly, unique, and innovative.

Therefore, a makeathon is used to meet, learn, have fun, and create together. But that doesn’t mean that the prize doesn’t count for anything!

Makeathons vs. hackathons

  • Hackathons bring together developers, who collaborate to address and solve a problem through computer programming. These can last from a few hours to several days.

  • Makeathons, on the other hand, bring together “makers” at an event that similarly can last for anything from a few hours to several days, to work collaboratively on solving a problem by making tangible, creative things.

Thus, a makeathon is the creative version of a hackathon. In both cases, we see the same desire to learn and innovate through collaboration and taking on challenges, creating competition between the participants.

Who are makeathons targeted at?

Makeathons unite “makers” from all backgrounds—artists, craftspeople, technicians, and other non-virtual enthusiasts, whatever their medium. Regardless of whether they’re painters, woodworkers, sculptors, designers, dressmakers, engineers, or architects, all talents are welcome.

One of the main ideas of these events is to promote collaboration with other people whose talents complement yours, so participants form teams, on which there is a place for all attendees. The teams can be randomly selected or formed by the participants themselves—there are no set rules in this regard.

What does a makeathon actually look like?

Most often, makeathons take place on-site, unlike hackathons, for which participants can work remotely, from anywhere in the world.

There are different types of makeathon: some are very technical, whereas others are more artistic. It might be about making complex objects, using defined skills. In other cases, the process of creating is much freer, and each maker, be they a sculptor, photographer, designer, or developer, can interpret the theme through their own artistic medium.

Once the time is up, a jury selects the winner based on specific criteria, which is set out and explained by the event organizers. The reward varies, depending on the makeathon and the organizers: it might be an honorary title, a physical gift, or a subscription to a fab lab.

The spirit of makeathons

The non-profit basis

Unlike mackathons, which are often organized for commercial purposes—such as developing new products, improving an existing service, recruiting talent, finding a job—makeathons are a non-profit type of event. It’s not about making money for a company or creating products that will turn a profit. It is the organizers who finance the event, either with their own funds, subsidies from associations, or sometimes through the registration fee paid by participants.

For the organizers, makeathons provide an opportunity for them to lead their community and simply take pleasure in meeting other “makers” by focusing on an idea that may eventually lead to the creation of something that is actually useful for society.

The challenge

The event usually takes place over a short time, with the preset theme revealed at the last moment and participants forming competing teams. It’s about staying focused, finding an idea quickly and, of course, making sure it is well executed.

The principles of sustainability

The “DIY” aspect is also very important: using recycled materials, doing repair work, lateral thinking... Makeathons are targeted at people who prefer to make than to buy, reuse rather than discard. It’s a real reflection of how you choose to live your life!

The collaborative aspect

The purpose of a makeathon is to get participants together so that they can cooperate, learn from each other, and work together to realize their idea. It’s collective thinking for innovation!

An example of makeathon: The Plastic Free Rivers Makathon

In 2016, the Plastic Free Rivers organization brought together different experts and “makers” at Rijkswaterstaat’s LEF innovation center in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Using design thinking methods, the teams first analyzed the issue of plastic waste in rivers and thought about solutions to this global problem. A makeathon was then organized so that participants could create prototypes of their proposed solutions. A jury selected the best creations, with the overall winner being The Great Bubble Barrier.

Photo by WTTJ @Make ICI

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Translated by Matthew Docherty

Cécile Nadaï

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