Code for America

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Code for America
Codeforamerica logo.png
EstablishedSeptember 2009
Executive DirectorJennifer Pahlka[1]
EndowmentPrimary sponsors

Code for America is a non-partisan, non-political 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2009 to address the widening gap between the public and private sectors in their effective use of technology and design. According to its website, the organization works with residents and governments in solving community problems.[2] The organization began by enlisting technology and design professionals to work with city governments in the United States in order to build open-source applications and promote openness, participation, and efficiency in government, and has grown into a cross-sector network of practitioners of civic innovation and a platform for "civic hacking".[3]

Through five programs, Code for America helps government work more like the Internet.

  • The largest program by numbers is the Brigade, which comprises local groups of civic hackers and other community volunteers who meet regularly to support the technology, design, and open data efforts of their local governments. Over 5,000 people in the US are involved in a Code for America Brigade.
  • Through the Fellowship program, small teams of developers and designers work with a city, county or state government for a year, building open source apps and helping spread awareness of how contemporary technology works among the government workforce and leadership.
  • Through the Accelerator, Code for America provides seed funding, office space, and mentorship to civic startups.
  • Code for America also runs a Peer Network for innovators in local government.
  • Lastly, Code for All (part of Code for America) organizes similar efforts outside the US, particularly Brigades and fellowship programs in countries around the world.[2]

The Washington Post described Code for America as "the technology world's equivalent of the Peace Corps or Teach for America". The article goes on to say, "They bring fresh blood to the solution process, deliver agile coding and software development skills, and frequently offer new perspectives on the latest technology—something that is often sorely lacking from municipal government IT programs. This is a win-win for cities that need help and for technologists that want to give back and contribute to lower government costs and the delivery of improved government service."[4]

The New York Times described Code for America as "a new nonprofit project... which aims to import the efficiency of the Web into government infrastructures" and "[tries] to make working in government fun and creative".[5]

Founding and history[edit]

Code for America building in San Francisco

In 2009, the founder Jennifer Pahlka was working with O'Reilly Media at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC. A conversation with Andrew Greenhill, the Mayor's Chief of Staff of the City of Tucson, sparked the initial idea for Code for America, when he said "You need to pay attention to the local level, because cities are in major crisis. Revenues are down, costs are up—if we don't change how cities work, they're going to fail."[6] The two began discussing plans for a program that eventually became Code for America, "a one-year fellowship recruiting developers to work for city government".[6] With support from web entrepreneur Leonard Lin, Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, and technologist Clay A. Johnson, among others, the organization was launched in September 2009.[6]

Fellowship program[edit]

Code for America connects city governments and web professionals through the Code for America Fellowship program.[7]

The first year of the fellowship program began in January 2011. Twenty fellows were selected from 360 applicants, resulting in a 5.6% acceptance rate.[8] Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Seattle were the four cities selected to participate in the 2011 program.[9]

On January 4, 2012 Code for America began its second year fellowship program with 26 fellows and eight cities: Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Macon, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Santa Cruz.[10]

The 2016 Code for America fellowship program is running in partnership with six cities: Kansas City, Missouri; Long Beach, California; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York City, New York; Salt Lake County, Utah; and Seattle, Washington.[11]


The inaugural 2011 fellowship program launched four projects in Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.[9] Each city partners with a team of five web programmers or designers selected for the fellowship. Over a period of 11 months, the fellows and city government collaborate to develop a web application to solve a civic problem identified by the city in their project proposals.[8] The completed software applications are released as open-source for any city government to use or adapt.[7]

The Civic Commons project focuses on reducing public IT costs by helping government entities share code and best practices.[12][13] It was launched in September 2010 after the Washington, DC project fell through due to a change in administration. Code for America Commons, as it is now called, is a coordinated effort between Code for America, OpenPlans, and the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). In March 2011, Code for America Commons helped make the Federal IT dashboard freely available to all levels of government, thereby providing local governments with tools to monitor project effectiveness and evaluate the allocation of resources.[14]

In December 2011 Code for America announced the receipt of a $1.5 million grant from Google and the formation of two new programs: Accelerator and Brigade.[15] The Code for America Brigades are local groups of volunteers who build civic apps on open data in cities around the world.

In 2011, CFA coders developed an "Adopt a Hydrant" website, so that volunteers in Boston can sign up to shovel out fire hydrants after storms. The system has also been implemented in Providence, Rhode Island, Anchorage, Alaska, and Chicago. Honolulu has created a similar website, "Adopt-A-Siren", for its tsunami sirens.[16]

In 2012, fellows at Code for America created Honolulu Answers, a web application that provides simple, to-the-point answers to citizens' questions. The web application was populated with citizen input at a write-a-thon, which became a unique model for civic engagement. Both Honolulu Answers and the write-a-thon model have since been redeployed in a dozen cities around the world, including as Oakland Answers and Durban Answers.

In 2015, fellows at Code for America designed, to streamline the CalFresh application process.[17] In California, 40% of people who are eligible for CalFresh, the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, were not receiving benefits. California has the second lowest participation rate in the country.[18] Although an online application is available in California, it can take up to an hour to complete, is more than 50 web pages long, and filled with over a hundred questions. It also doesn't work on mobile devices, despite the fact that most low-income people rely on smartphones for access to the Internet.[19] GetCalFresh takes an average time of 11 minutes to complete and, as of 2016, is being used by 9 counties to help over 1,000 people.[18] In addition, it leverages mobile phone access among applicants to encourage questions and answers, all over text.[20] Current efforts are focused on scaling this solution.

Board of directors[edit]


  1. ^ "Who We Are". Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  2. ^ a b "About Code for America". Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  3. ^ "What We Do". Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  4. ^ Wadhwa, Vivek (2011-12-16). "Code for America: An elegant solution for government IT problems". Washington Post.
  5. ^ Bilton, Nick (2010-07-06). "Changing Government and Tech With Geeks". New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c Kamenetz, Anya (2010-11-29). "How an Army of Techies Is Taking On City Hall". Fast Company.
  7. ^ a b "Code for America Chooses 20 Developers as Fellows". Mashable. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  8. ^ a b "Code for America Fellows to Work with City Governments". Government Technology. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  9. ^ a b "Hacker Driven Code for America Kicks Off Today". Fast Company. 2011-01-05. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  10. ^ "". 2012. Code for America. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  11. ^ "The 2016 CfA Fellowship | Code for America". Code for America. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  12. ^ "Civic Commons Launched to Help Government Share Technology and Cut Costs". Retrieved 2011-04-20.
  13. ^ "Code for America Commons - About". Civic Commons. Retrieved 2011-04-20.
  14. ^ "Cost-Saving IT Dashboard Software Now Available to All Levels of Government". Code for America. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2011-04-20.
  15. ^ "Google Awards $1.5 Million To Code For America". Google Awards $1.5 Million To Code For America. InformationWeek. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  16. ^ Raja, Tasneem (June 2014). "Is Coding the New Literacy?". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
  17. ^ "". Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  18. ^ a b "CalFresh | Code for America". Code for America. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  19. ^ America, Code for. "California counties make it easier to apply for CalFresh - Code for America". Code for America. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  20. ^ "Code For America Improves CalFresh Application via SMS". Retrieved 2016-12-17.

External links[edit]