by Sandra Vlašić, ZEZ, Terra Hub and EIT Climate-KIC Hub Croatia

“I want us to imagine how the city of Križevci can be a part of Europe and the world where we aim to keep the temperature rise up to 1.5 degrees C, as opposed to a pre-crises lifestyle scenario which leads us to a world 3-4 degrees warmer, a world where life for people will no longer be possible.” – that is how the Mayor of Križevci invited us to act. And so we did.

We did an experiment, a hybrid between a challenge and a hackathon. Twenty-four hours, four teams, 16 competitors willing to do something for their city and a dozen more supporting them as facilitators and mentors, tech-support wizards and mood-boosters. Most importantly, the teams were followed and supported by the local community actors – the Mayor, a Deputy Mayor, local foundation “I love Križevci”, local NGOs as well as by a newly founded initiative KLIK – Križevci Lab for Innovation for Climate.

Why an experiment, you ask, hackathons go around all the time?

True, but not in a crisis situation caused by a microscopic virus, not in a total COVID-19 global lockdown of everything. And not in Križevci! We did it for the first time exclusively in a #stayhome mode – online, using virtual meeting tools and shared documents on clouds for collaboration. No physical contact at all. Even the team who organised it, the Green Energy Cooperative or ZEZ, hasn’t met in person for almost a month. And we did it for the first time in Križevci, a lovely small city in central Croatia with a population of a bit more than 20.000. The experiment was done on freshly adjusted digital page ZEZ Impact which is an upgraded version of the one initially used for crowd-financing green energy projects. Now Impact is open for accepting broader ideas that aim to help in building flourishing communities. 

Days and nights, nights and days…

It took us eight days (and nights) to organise it and to mobilise the local community to apply. We challenged the citizens to imagine the future of their city after the crisis – a “Today for Tomorrow Challenge”. Due to the COVID-19 crisis we learnt that an overnight change is possible, because that’s what happened and we know that everything will be different when we wake up from this bad dream. Can we learn something from that and become better, can we restart the city into Križevci 20.30 version? On Wednesday April 8, the City Mayor invited the teams at the very beginning of the hackathon to imagine:

– how the economy and entrepreneurship will look like, any new jobs, how the way we do business can change?

– how we have helped in this crisis the most vulnerable social groups and how we can do it better, faster and more efficiently in the future?

– how we used digital solutions to connect us all to solve this crisis? How can we continue to work together in good times, not only in bad times?

Finally, the Mayor reminded that while using their imagination, they should bear in mind a universal challenge – that all these solutions are good for climate, carbon-free, green and sustainable. Because they want Križevci to be a city tailored both to people and nature! 

Vision, problem, solution-quest

The teams have done some joint visioning to help them with ideas and then picked one idea to focus on. They analysed the problems around the idea tandlooked into different aspects – social, technological, environmental i.e. climate and they looked into availability of resources necessary to solve it.

The teams put their ideas into a canvas and were up to look for different other elements necessary to have an initial plan – who are the beneficiaries? Who needs the solution they propose? Where is the market? Who are the partners they need and who are the competitors? What resources do they need, how much time, what would be the first steps towards implementation?

The time flew really fast – 24 hours for ideation, problem analysis and solution-finding, digging-out more information and structuring the pitch, dreaming big under the full Moon. Pitching session started on Thursday at 19h and a bit after 20h we’ve got the best team. In the jury we had representatives of Križevci local administration departments, local foundation and regional energy agency but also a representative of the City of Maribor from Slovenia who is also a part of the Future Cities of South-East Europe Team.

So what ideas emerged out of the challenge?

One is directly related to the COVID-19 crisis – a mobile solar-powered kiosk to be used for collecting samples for testing in times of epidemics. The kiosk would relieve the pressure from medical institutions and would allow easier access to citizens. For a small urban-rural setting like in Križevci, being mobile means being able to reach-out to distant villages as well and getting to where people in need are. 

The other three teams had very complementary ideas, but what was interesting is that they did not know about each other at all before the hackathon! Now they’ve discovered each other and realised they should collaborate and work together, which for sure will happen with the help of the project team working on Križevci as a Future City! This exactly was one of the aims of the hackathon – to activate local community and to get their visions for their city.

Those three “symbiotic” teams are: a Youth Hub to gather young people willing to go beyond regular education, to have a place to co-create together, learn and get some practice and get connected to the real sector and entrepreneurs, get some work experience. The goal is to increase the chances for employment and stay, live, work and thrive in Križevci.

The other two teams worked on connecting the currently broken local food chain. Križevci is traditionally known as a food-production region, but this was neglected due to high imports of food with low prices. The land and knowledge is abandoned. This crisis, when shops are limited and markets closed, showed us how important it is to have our own food production and to ensure self-sufficiency for food. Healthy food moreover. The idea is to create a platform beyond digital, that would connect and help both producers and buyers of local food, but would encourage more people to produce on their own. A platform would also offer learning and practice placements with farmers, sharing tools and mechanisation, sharing processing devices to produce higher value products and finally to share storage, delivery system and build a recognisable brand for locally produced food. Growing practice should aim for biodynamic and organic because that is better for our health and for nature, delivery and storage should be low-carbon with its own energy production. Learning modules can merge with the Youth Hub! The innovation is in closing the loop first, but no one said there wouldn’t be more innovative ideas when the teams will have more than 24 hours to look deeper into their models and test them.

We are all winners because it’s our future

The Youth Hub team officially won the first place according to the jury, but all of them were the winners! They recognised each other locally, they got connected, they had an opportunity to present themselves and their ideas to the city and other supporting organisations. Only now the journey for their ideas starts! 

What’s next, you ask? This experiment sets the ground for the national hackton we are co-organizing to engage more cities, communities and organisations in re-discovering ideas and regenerative solutions for strengthening local communities and building stronger local and regional ecosystems – now and after the crises!

What we have learnt is that it’s possible to organise and execute a hackathon in a rather short time in a #stayhome mode, with a low footprint, exclusively digital but with high social impact. Local community got connected and recognised! Their ideas came to light and will be supported to grow further. We should do it again and perhaps give it more than 24 hours.  If we narrow the focus of the challenge, we shall get even better ideas and solutions, get more people on board. What a rewarding experience for all!

The challenge-hackathon “Today for Tomorrow – Križevci Version 20.30.” was supported by the City of Križevci and Green Energy Cooperative, EIT Climate-KIC partner as a peace of puzzle of the big picture and as a part of a journey in the process of building a better city, the Future City of South-East Europe. This time, because of a COVID-19 lockdown, this journey had to be digital but showed that social connections can be built this way too. #stayhome and #imaginethefuture.

Join us!

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