Code for America grows up

Code for America grows up

Code for America is narrowing the scope of its civic innovation projects, while it works toward expanding community participation and developing a sustainable funding model.

When CfA’s Brigades, or distributed networks of community members that work on local civic tech projects, launched in 2012, they started with 19 people in 16 cities. Since then, Brigades have expanded to 80 cities nationwide and thousands of volunteers, which became difficult for CfA to fund. Likewise, the number of apps mushroomed, too many of which don’t end up serving the functions or the people they were intended to, according to Jennifer Pahlka, CfA’s founder and executive director, and Nicole Neditch, the senior director of CfA’s network.

The two reflected on the organization’s achievements, challenges and areas for improvement in an open letter on Medium. “We’ve got to push ourselves to rethink our models so we can have more impact,” they wrote.

To start, CfA will shift to four concepts: developing a shared governance model, increasing the knowledge sharing across the network, developing a sustainable funding model so it can continue to support projects and partnering with organizations that can provide resources in areas it is not currently focusing on (like open data or analytics).

Additionally, CfA plans to concentrate on three areas: healthy communities, economic development and safety and justice, focusing on projects’ sustainability, scalability of outcomes and participation.

The organization’s first project will be to scale up the online service that eases the food stamps application in some California counties  -- GetCalFresh --  statewide, then expand the program to other states with low food stamp enrollment rates. CfA will apply the same process to projects that reduce unnecessary incarceration and improve the workforce system.

This follows CfA’s efforts to share more. “Movements are effective when a win in one place helps raise the bar everywhere,” the authors wrote. If there is a digital service success in one city, other cities should be able to leverage those services to further their own local goals.

CfA also is interviewing community and staff members to find better ways to serve local communities while encouraging participation. It’ll spend the rest of 2016 working on its strategy structure of the brigade network to include a shared identity, vision and focus.

“We hope that this evolution will unlock opportunities for more people to participate, create funding opportunities that support specific projects aligned around Code for America’s core focus, and lead to increased collective impact across the country,” Pahlka and Neditch wrote.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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