You Don’t Need to Be a Superhero to Be in the Justice League: Rethinking Justice Hackathon (3-4 March 2018, Brightlands Smart Services Campus)

Making the world a better place is easier said than done. Ours is a shared world: citizens, businesses, states and institutions all face the same risks and challenges, and so there is a constant need for society to innovate – to find better ways of doing things. Ideally, this can be done in order to bring about more justice in the world. What we mean by justice is simply more fairness, in the way in which citizens, civil society, businesses and public institutions interact with one another. While thinking about broad theme has its advantages, we want to create a nurturing environment and mindset where someone with an idea can go ahead and do something about it. This is how the Rethinking Justice Hackathon came to life: students, staff and alumni from Maastricht University, as well as friends from industry, coming together in a 24-hour hackathon to celebrate free thinking and enthusiastic doing.

As one of the youngest Dutch universities, Maastricht’s pedagogy has always stood out because of its Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach: departing from real-life problems and learning by doing, either through independent inquiry or group collaboration. For this reason, we consider hackathons and PBL to be a match made in heaven: creativity, leadership, perseverance, empathy, communication – all of these 21st century skills that are so central to modern work experiences have friendly roots in the pedagogical concepts of Maastricht University education.

Organized by the independent law & tech community Technolawgeeks with the support of Maastricht University and the Brightlands Smart Services Campus, the hackathon celebrated rethinking justice in four different challenges: The Hague Institute for the Innovation of Law (Social Justice challenge); eBay (E-Commerce Conflicts challenge); Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts (Courts of the Future challenge); and Maastricht University’s Institute of Data Science (Data-Driven Justice challenge). Each of the partners hosted a workshop for participants (online/offline), to share with them how to relate to the challenges from the perspective of their own disciplines and expertise, while also allowing the participants to immerse in the way of thinking of the Hackathon partners.

76 participants divided into 12 teams worked on the challenges launched by the four institutions. Their background ranged from law, liberal arts or psychology to math, data science and knowledge engineering, and some of the team also featured young professionals.

‘Justice takes different shapes and forms. Justice is not just a ‘legal issue’. And to improve it, we need more than just the legal industry’, says Felix Schulte Strathaus, one of the Law alumni who advised, together with law and tech visionaries Caroline Calomme and Arturo Sanchez Barbado, the organizing team of the Hackathon. Interdisciplinarity was also a main feature of our organizing team which I was honoured to lead and which consisted of Chris Mondschein & Mark Kawakami (Law Faculty), Vince Meens (Brightlands Smart Services Campus), Alexej Jordanov (Brightlands Innovation Factory), Rico Möckel (Department of Knowledge Engineering), Michel Dumontier, Nadine Rouleaux and Claudia van Oppen (Institute of Data Science), and Herco Fonteijn and Arie van der Lugt (Faculty of Psychology). A team of excellent volunteers made the event possible: Veronique Brokke, Elisabeth Rammos, Catherine Altobelli and Iulia Feroli. Our community, Technolawgeeks, is about building bridges between disciplines and perspectives. Our aim for this Hackathon was to bring people together under the same roof who had never been in the same room before; and I am proud to say we’ve met this goal.

Legal experts, psychologists, entrepreneurs from the Brightlands innovation community, as well as representatives of supporting organizations such as VraagHugo, Wavelength Law, Consense Data Exchange, Legal Hackers and HelloLaw joined forces to coach the teams and help them perform under time pressure. ‘We wanted to provide the participants with a free atmosphere where they could feel safe to explore their own creativity: we were happy to host the MSM Quartet which performed songs from the Game of Thrones soundtrack, as well as artist Dorota Gazy, who showed her short film called ‘Court Dance’, where she explores justice through contemporary dance. Apart from this, if you walked around the beautiful Smart Services Campus on Saturday night, this is what you’d see: some teams playing karaoke in the auditorium, some watching Friends and Shrek to relax in their own team rooms, and some playing Fifa in the gaming corner. After midnight pizzas, most participants fell asleep in the quiet room on inflatable mattresses and bean bags, and there were even teams that stayed up all night. You tell me where you can have an educational experience with professional relevance that includes so much freedom.

The quality of output provided by the teams was so high, that the Executive Board of Maastricht University decided to award four prizes instead of three. Each challenge partner announced a winning team, which together will enjoy a networking lunch sponsored by the University, as well as coaching provided by the respective challenge organizations. In addition, the two teams with the highest scores won a cash prize of €500 per team. The two latter teams had developed solutions for eBay and for the Institute of Data Science. The first team (Pierre Ferran, Maria Tohaneanu, Elden van Delft, Monika Meskauskaite, Anna-Maria Svinhufvud and Bert Brookfield-Hird) worked on an online artificial-intelligence mediation tool for business-to-platform use for eBay, while the second team (Isabella Felicia Renirie, Andrada Heesterbeek, Marja van der Sluis, Peter Pelzer and Marta Dávila Mateu) coded a Machine Learning algorithm that predicts a personalized sentence for juvenile criminals (Legal Decision Support Tool).

Even more than that, as one of the most legendary alumni of the European Law School, Samuel Laurinkari will be following up on the eBay challenge by hosting an event in Brussels, where the participants to the Hackathon will be able to showcase their projects before representatives of more tech companies as well as representatives of the European Commission. More coverage on that to follow.

Hackathons may be a hype all over the world, but there’s a reason for that. I hope this is only the beginning, and that as a university we can understand how we can channel the features and potential of this format and bring it into education and research to stimulate employability and societal impact.

This may not be an Oscars speech, but a warm and long ‘Thank You’ list is most definitely in order, and it starts by applauding the leadership of the Faculty, the UM and the Brightlands Smart Services Campus – many thanks to Jan Smits, Martin Paul and Peter Verkoulen for facilitating this experience! Each challenge brought institutional partners to the Smart Services Campus who have been soldiering through the event together with the participants: Sandra van der Pal, Tim Verheij and Wilfried de Wever (HiiL), Samuel Laurinkari (eBay), Mihaela Moldoveanu (DIFC Courts) and Michel Dumontier, Claudia van Oppen, Nadine Rouleaux, Kody Moodley, Pedro Hernández Serrano, Chang Sun, Amrapali Zaveri and Alexander Malic (Institute of Data Science). Remarkable coaching has been provided by the wonderful Oskar Person & Marta Giralt (Consense Data Exchange), Arno Angerer (Data Science Initiative), Ben Gardner & Felix Schulte Strathaus (Wavelength Law), Erik Boerma (Court of Breda & KEI Toezicht), Geneviève Vanderstichele (Gent Court of Appeals), Christopher Mondschein, Gijs van Dijck, Cosimo Monda, Mark Kawakami, Marieke Hopman, Marcel Schaper, Paul Roos, Viivi Varakas, Madalena Narciso, Joyce Groneschild (Law Faculty), Arlene McDaid (Legal Hackers Amsterdam), Stephan Djamin (VraagHugo), Jerry Spanakis, Seethy Mariyam Christopher & Rico Möckel (Department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering), Dave Alken (Cfit), Margot Krijnen (Marketing & Communications, Maastricht University), Alexej Jordanov (Brightlands Innovation Factory), Vince Meens (Brightlands Smart Services Campus), Stephan Mulders (Mulders Advocaten), and Mustapha Ouarani (Boumans & partners).

At the end of the day, you don’t need to be a superhero to be in the justice league. You just need to attend the Rethinking Justice Hackathon.

All photos from the event are available here.