Code for America is a non-profit based in San Francisco. Our mission is to use networked principles and tools to help government become more innovative.As we all know, networked technology has changed the way we do just about everything and has led to disruption in industries and sectors as diverse as finance and news media, breaking down hierarchical and static institutions into networked and dynamic ones, essentially democratizing the way we learn, work, bank, consume and create culture and interact with our friends. Ironically enough, these networked principles and tools haven’t yet democratized democracy.
Bring fellows together with cities
Let me give you a couple examples:Our fellows in Honolulu last year were asked to rebuild the city’s website, which just wasn’t possible in the time that they had. So what they did instead was build a site that better conformed to the way people look for information when they come to a government website. They’re usually looking for quick answers or steps for action they need to take and a site that looks like this is really frustrating to navigate.
So they built Honolulu Answers, a super-simple and elegant search interface that allows citizens to enter keywords or questions
And get back plain language answers that direct a user toward action.
But the real innovation for this project was not the site itself. The real innovation was how the site was built. The fellows had the idea that they would use the community as the capacity for populating this site with answers. What better way to get accurate information in the site than to crowdsource it from people in the community? So they held a writeathon. Instead of a hackathon.
Where people picked from among the most popular topics and questions and wrote the answers to them.
And what’s even more exciting than that about this project is that it’s a great example of one of our core principles--that when we create civic technology we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel every time. So we purposely build our tools to be easily redeployable in other places. Which is exactly what we did in Oakland, my hometown, where I am now.
A couple weeks ago during the National Day of Civic Hacking here in the states, we held our own writeathon to populate Oakland Answers.
And you can see here that I wrote the answer to this question. And it cannot be overstated how powerful this action was. It’s hard to articulate and even harder to quantify but the subtle shift in my attitude about how I think about the place where I live and my ability to contribute to it is so important and it’s indicative of the change we’re trying to make at Code for America. We’re creating ways for people to participate.