Creating Challenge Briefs

Posted on Jan 9, 2015 in Technical Documentation

Why create a challenge brief?
Useful challenge briefs are the key to producing robust solutions for a hackathons. They do this by limiting, not expanding, the parameters of solutions to challenges. It’s easy for participants to overextend themselves on solutions that try to address too many components of a problem at once. By creating challenge briefs that break the problem up into parsable, bite-sized chunks that can be tackled in the time span of an event, participants are able to create more viable results when they focus on one component or feature.

Remember that hackathon challenges aren’t necessarily software development challenges. Most Geeks Without Bounds and Random Hacks of Kindness affiliated hackathons allow the opportunity to work on challenges around software, hardware, and open data. Many are also open to citizen science projects, educational resource creation, and the development of other commons resources. Be sure to explain in your brief what sorts of resources you would like to see in response to your challenge.

What are the key pieces of effective challenge briefs?

  • Background
  • Challenge Statement
  • Scenarios (optional)
  • Components
  • Resources

Provide your participants with contextualizing information on the problem, the requesting organization, etc. This will help lay the groundwork for them to determine what solutions might be valuable in this use case, and how those solutions might need to be tweaked for the benefit of the end user.

Kiva is a microfinancing platform with the goal of bringing an end to poverty through giving. They focus on individual empowerment to create opportunities, ensuring that marginalized populations are the ones in charge of their own development, prosperity, and independence.

Challenge Statement
This is the heart of your brief. The challenge statement boils down the problem(s) that are being presented to participants. Be sure to state the need and explain why solving this issue is necessary. Indicate how a solution to this challenge would impact the stakeholders, and provide any needed caveats for special cases of use.

Kiva needs a better way to understand its own donor data and extract meaningful/actionable information from it, provide avenues for external partners and wealth managers to interpret and share impacts of this data, and use this information to further drive engagement of donors both individual and donor-advised. Any tool created for this challenge will need to take into consideration the internal and external potential uses for this tool, and implement reasonable flexibility to address these end users.

Scenarios (optional)
This is an optional component for your challenge brief that is dependent upon any special cases of use that the solution will be addressing. For the example provided below, the end user of this tool may be outside of the organizational structure that created it. This information helps participants craft solutions that provide flexibility for implementation of the tool.

Many of Kiva’s donors come from a pool of donor-advised funds via institutions like Morgan Stanley. These wealth managers provide reports to their managed investors on how their money is being used, what the return rate of those investments are, and what the impact of those investments are for the recipients. Wealth managers need the ability to track these funds at a variety of levels (geographic area, type of loan, amount, theme, etc) and provide this information to their investors. This will enable donors to provide feedback, see the actual positive human outcomes generated by their investments, and direct their wealth managers toward targeted groups in need.

This is where you break up the challenge into parsable chunks for teams to choose from. Stress to your teams that this is not a checklist of items to complete, but a starting place for ideas. Only one portion of the possible solutions should be addressed by individual teams, NOT the entire list.

1. Refined Loan Information Processing
-Accessing information on donated/invested funds more easily
-Calibrated for intaking both individual donors and larger firms
-Both for external firms and internal Kiva usage
2. Funds Tracking
-Tracking of funds both individual and donor-advised to provide a holistic overview of where, how, and why funds are spent
-The ability to import funds data from sources outside of Kiva
3. Impact Visualization
-A flexible, adaptable, and editable visualizations generator
-Framed for use both internal and external

Give your participants shiny new toys to play with. Platforms, APIs, datasets (with PII, personally identifiable information, SCRUBBED), media, use case studies, etc, should be made available to teams. Don’t overdo it, though, as too much information may bog the teams down and prevent out of the box problem-solving.


  • Developer Site, Kiva API, and Sample Data
  • Datasets: Incorporated into provisioned hackathon NetSuite accounts
  • Kiva Media and Image Gallery

Good luck, and happy hacking!