Code for America
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 to improve government services for all, starting with those who need them most. 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 now works with state, county, and federal government to spread the principles and practices of "delivery-driven government." It has grown into a cross-sector network of public sector change agents and a platform for "civic hacking". Code for America is also a member of the international civic technology organizations included in the Code for All organization.
The Code for America Brigade Network is made up of more than 25,000 active members across 85 chapters of volunteer groups across the country committed to making their local communities better by making local government work better. Code for America also runs a Community Fellowship, where Brigade members work within local government to improve services, and works to drive awareness around and place more people in public sector technology jobs.
In 2018, in partnership with George Gascón, District Attorney for San Francisco, Code for America's Clear My Record software was applied to automate searching for cannabis-related criminal records eligible to be expunged after California voters passed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in 2016. On April 3, 2019, Judge Samuel K. Feng signed off expunging more than 8,000 convictions using the software; officials in Los Angeles and in San Joaquin County have announced that they will use the software for the same purpose in 2019.
Founding and history
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." 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". 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.
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."
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".
From 2011 to 2016, Code for America connected city governments and web professionals through the Code for America Fellowship program.
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. Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Seattle were the four cities selected to participate in the 2011 program.
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. The 2016 Code for America fellowship program ran 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.
Each city partnered with a team of five web programmers or designers selected for the fellowship. Over a period of 11 months, the fellows and city government collaborated to develop a web application to solve a civic problem identified by the city in their project proposals. The completed software applications are released as open-source for any city government to use or adapt.
In 2018, Code for America launched a new Community Fellowship program in which members of its volunteer Brigade network pair with government in their local communities to help improve services for vulnerable populations over the course of 6 months. The first Community Fellowships were in Austin, Asheville, Honolulu, and San Jose.
Former Fellowship Projects
The inaugural 2011 fellowship program launched four projects in Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Each city partnered with a team of three web programmers or designers selected for the fellowship. Over a period of 11 months, the fellows and city government collaborated to develop a web application to solve a civic problem identified by the city in their project proposals. The completed software applications were released as open-source for any city government to use or adapt.
In 2011, CFA coders developed an "Adopt a Hydrant" website, so that volunteers in Boston could sign up to shovel out fire hydrants after storms. The system has now been implemented in Providence, Rhode Island, Anchorage, Alaska, and Chicago. Honolulu created a similar website, "Adopt-A-Siren", for its tsunami sirens.
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 GetCalFresh.org, to streamline the CalFresh application process. 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. Although an online application is available in California, it can take up to an hour to complete, is more than 50 web pages long with more than 100 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. GetCalFresh takes an average time of 11 minutes to complete and, as of 2016, was being used by 9 counties to help over 1,000 people. In addition, it leverages mobile phone access among applicants to encourage questions and answers, all over text. Current efforts are focused on scaling this solution.
Board of directors
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- John Lilly, Greylock Partners
- Jim Shelton, former Deputy Secretary of US Department of Education
- Shona Brown, former Google executive
- Jennifer Pahlka
- Stacy Donohue, Omidyar Network
- Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media
- Kathryn Biber, General Counsel, Anchorage
List of Active Brigades
- "Who We Are". Archived from the original on 2012-11-17. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
- "About Code for America". Retrieved 2014-04-20.
- "What We Do". Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
- "Code for All Members". Retrieved 2019-10-25.
- "The Code for America Brigade Network | Code for America Brigade". brigade.codeforamerica.org. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
- Lee, Dave (2019-04-29). "An algorithm wipes clean the criminal pasts of thousands". BBC News.
- Kamenetz, Anya (2010-11-29). "How an Army of Techies Is Taking On City Hall". Fast Company.
- Wadhwa, Vivek (2011-12-16). "Code for America: An elegant solution for government IT problems". The Washington Post.
- Bilton, Nick (2010-07-06). "Changing Government and Tech With Geeks". The New York Times.
- Sawhney, Gabe (2017-04-05). "It's time for Code for Canada". Medium. Code for Canada. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- "Code for America Chooses 20 Developers as Fellows". Mashable. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
- "Code for America Fellows to Work with City Governments". Government Technology. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
- "Hacker Driven Code for America Kicks Off Today". Fast Company. 2011-01-05. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
- "codeforamerica.org/2012". 2012. Code for America. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- "The 2016 CfA Fellowship | Code for America". Code for America. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
- "Code for America Fellows to Work with City Governments". Government Technology. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2011-01-15.[verification needed]
- "Code for America Chooses 20 Developers as Fellows". Mashable. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2011-01-15.[verification needed]
- Raja, Tasneem (June 2014). "Is Coding the New Literacy?". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
- "GetCalFresh.org". getcalfresh.org. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
- "CalFresh". Code for America. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
- America, Code for. "California counties make it easier to apply for CalFresh - Code for America". Code for America. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
- "Code For America Improves CalFresh Application via SMS". www.twilio.com. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
- "Code for America". crunchbase. Archived from the original on 2014-09-15. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
- "List of brigades". Retrieved 2019-10-25.
- Code for America official website
- Changing Government and Tech with Geeks, Nick Bilton, The New York Times, July 6, 2010
- How an Army of Techies Is Taking on City Hall, Anya Kamenetz, Fast Company, November 29, 2010
- Remaking Government in a Wiki Age, Chrystia Freeland/Reuters, The New York Times, August 18, 2011