Learning Hackathons for co-creating humanitarian learning games

by | May 28, 2019 | Case Studies, Game Examples and Descriptions

Since 2017, the Humanitarian Leadership Academy in partnership with the International Training Centre of the ILO and Quicksand has hosted a number of local co-creations events (workshops and virtual events) in Kenya, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and Jordan.

The purpose of these “Learning Hackathons” is to create spaces for individual innovators and groups within the humanitarian sector to innovate – with a keen focus on learning and knowledge sharing. The hackathons use human-centred design thinking (HCD) and co-creation, combined with innovations in learning to create innovative learning at the local level. In a number of these events Gamoteca has been used as a co-creation tool to capture these innovative ideas that are being scaled through the Academy’s global learning platform, Kaya (KayaConnect.org).

The events over the last two years have included:

  • A first innovation workshop in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2017, bringing together local NGOs, county and national governments, academics, innovators and the private sector. The workshop provided an opportunity for the twenty-seven participants to learn more about innovation, especially in the field of learning, and improve knowledge management in the area of “Risk Management and Disaster Reduction”.
  • A workshop in the Philippines in March 2017 that brought together 27 humanitarian, learning, government organisations, institutions and innovation labs and resulted in some impressive games on disaster preparedness and management.
  • A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in July 2017 that was conceived to be an innovative online lab geared at identifying and shaping concrete challenges. The MOOC, with more than 1,100 participants, aimed to create the space for hands-on creative activities with the overall goal of contributing to better humanitarian preparedness.
  • A workshop on Risk Reduction and Disaster Management in Dhaka, Bangladesh in November 2017 that was hosted by BRAC. The workshop brought together 24 participants from a variety of organisations, including governmental organisations, social enterprises, academia, NGOs, INGOs and foundations.
  • A workshop in Amman, Jordan at the Al Hussein Technical University in June 2018. The workshop focussed on the theme of “youth humanitarianism and involvement in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, and engaged a group of young people aged 18-30 years old who had been nominated by a wide range of local, national, and international youth-focused organisations. Four SDGs were chosen by the participants to develop learning games around Quality Education (#4), Gender Equality (#5), Decent Work and Economic Growth (#8), and Climate Action (#13).
  • A workshop in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh in July 2018, with Access to Information (a2i) focussed on supporting a network of lead teacher trainers and education officers. 25 teachers and education officers from all over the country took part in the event.
  • A two-day workshop in Delhi, India in February 2019, with Quicksand, to understand challenges and gaps within the humanitarian sector. The workshop brought together NGOs, educators and local innovators to ideate and co-create educational resources that can better equip humanitarian professionals.

The challenge faced by many humanitarian aid agencies is that real-world simulations are costly to put in place and frequently high-risk. However, online learning methodologies fail to give participants the immersive feeling needed to train staff on more complex tasks. In this context, creating realistic scenarios is crucial for training participants to respond effectively in real-life situations. Therefore, there is a need to explore how mobile devices and mixed-reality games can have a role in the creation of more immersive and participatory simulations and role-plays.

The objectives of these co-creation events has been to:


  • Bring together various stakeholders, from local NGOs and national governments to the private sector, to explore how emerging technologies can be used for training humanitarian staff and volunteers
  • Identify and shape concrete challenges, which should then be addressed in a creative yet constructive way through game-based techniques. The learners identify various challenges in the humanitarian sector, deriving these from their professional & personal experiences that could be addressed through gamification.
  • Create the space for hands-on creative activities where participants are provided with opportunities to enhance their design skills and network with professionals.
  • Explore the application of innovation in learning and the potential of gamification and its impact on engagement.

‘[The workshop] will allow me to experiment and develop games to raise awareness and knowledge to encourage behaviour change’ – a workshop participant

A blend of learning methods are used, combining different approaches: participatory activity-oriented learning, game-based learning, design thinking techniques and mobile simulations. During the activities, participants identify game elements and techniques and build user personas and knowledge around game design; during the last day of the workshop, they were able to ideate game concepts for real challenges, to test and prototype them and to evaluate the quality of their game ideas.

Through these events a number of inspiring, innovative learning games have been created that are now being integrated and scaled via Kaya. These include:

  • Volunteer preparedness, using empathy building around affected people (Philippines)
  • Challenging gender stereotypes based on the HeForShe movement (Jordan)
  • Improving teaching practices (Bangladesh)