Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What has Code for America done and where are they headed?

            Recently, there has been much news about Code for America’s involvement with local governments in developing new services, apps, and technology.  I wondered how this innovative nonprofit came to be, how it operates, its effect on government, and where it might be going in the future. 
            Code for America was founded in 2009 by Jennifer Pahlka with support from “web entrepreneur Leonard Lin, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, and technologist Clay Johnson.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_for_America)  It’s goal are threefold: To “change how we participate in government by: - connecting citizens and governments to design better services – encouraging low-risk settings for innovation; and – supporting a competitive civic tech marketplace” (http://codeforamerica.org/about/#programs).  They have four programs that are in place.  The first is the fellowship which places developers, designers, and researchers in local governments for one year that served 10 cities with 30 fellows in 2014.  Many apps have been developed through this program.  The second program is the Brigade network which consists of volunteers and government employees who work together during “hack nights”, meet for discussions, and create apps as well.  The third program is Civic Startups which offers funding, mentorship, and networking to entrepreneurs whom have built new apps or technology for government.  Finally, the fourth program that Code for America has created is the Peer Network, where public servants can connect to share “civic tech resources, best practices, and open data policies” (http://codeforamerica.org/about/#programs).  Code for America has many public and private funding partners that began with seed money from the Sunlight Foundation with later funding from the Knight and Rockefeller Foundations. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1702210/how-army-techies-taking-city-hall)
            So, what are some key things Code for America has accomplished?  Many of its apps seem to be inspiring citizens to become more involved in government such as the Adopt-a-Hydrant app which encourages citizens to dig out hydrants when it snows or Seattle’s plans to have citizens “clear clogged storm drains” (http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/25/opinion/pahlka-code-government/).  In addition, other technology to improve government services has been developed such as Promptly, which sends reminder text messages to food stamp recipients.  (http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/debuggov).  Code for America is also said to have inspired the Presidential Innovation Fellows program which is the same as their fellowship program except it is now on the federal level.  They have also published books about open date standards and have become involved with Civic Commons, a different nonprofit which helps governments share code and best practices in IT.  
In the future, it looks as if Code for America is expanding its presence to be international through running fellowship programs in the Caribbean, Germany, and Mexico City and expanding its Brigade and Peer Network. (http://www.codeforamerica.org/2013/05/23/cfas-first-international-partnerships/

But most fundamentally, Code for America’s co-executive director Abhi Nemani states tthe organization’s goal is to create a “ecosystem of innovation” through sustainable startup businesses around the apps and open data standards. http://www.govtech.com/data/Code-for-America-Innovation-Ecosystem.html).  It is clear that Code for America seems to be inspiring more cross-sector collaboration between the tech world and government through their different intiatives.  It will be interesting to see the type of initiatives they do in the future and whether they succeed.

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