Dave and I have sat in a room – this was recently – watching a college-educated woman at a desk with two computers, and two keyboards. She was typing information from one into the other because the two systems didn’t talk to one another. The data she was moving had to do with dangerous fugitives.
There’s no universe in which this kind of inefficiency is OK – but the scary thing is that, no matter what you’ve ever seen on CSI, this is not an uncommon state of affairs.
Perhaps worst of all, many end users of government technology have been so let down by technology and vendor promises that they often don’t even bother to complain any more.
So even if we had a great government IT manager (and there are many of these), he wouldn’t necessarily know the problem exists.
On July 24, Code for America announced the five companies that comprise its 2013 Accelerator class. Code For America is an inspiring organization that makes possible public service by those of us in the technology industry who wish to give back to the community.
With programs to create code for cities to make them more efficient; to deploy, integrate, maintain and improve upon that code; to incubate companies seeking to change how government does its work; and to create a peer network for like-minded individuals to contribute, CfA has put its money – and that of a range of corporate and philanthropic partners – where its mouth is.
Dave’s and my commercial venture, StreetCred Software, is one of the five selected this year, and it’s more than an honor. To us it’s an opportunity to work with some truly inspiring start-ups.
And whoa, baby! when you look at the group of people we get to work with at CfA – it’s almost literally a Who’s Who of the world of software.
They help because the help is needed.
To us, Civic Coding is not about software. It’s about workflow, culture, logjams and government-department-specific rules. Our intellectual property is reflected in the processes we fix, the workflows we automate and the duplicated work we eliminate. Civic Coders have deep domain expertise in the specifics of the problems faced by the user: the point of execution or delivery of the work of government. So our software is created specifically to tackle things that stop the users from doing their jobs.
That approach, weirdly, is diametrically opposed to the traditional government software culture of taking tools from other industry and applying them to problems, or pushing technology down from the top (“We need a database!“).
To do this right, we need to focus on the mission first. Some would put profit first – they’re not Civic Coders. We believe to our DNA that focus solely on the service mission will drive profit.
Put another way, Civic Coders find a problem to fix and then apply novel, scalable, contemporary technological approaches to fix it. In and of itself, this is disruptive.
In law enforcement and public safety (the industry on which our company focuses) we need to deal with serious stuff. Failure to provide data or information can in fact mean life and death. And yet we regularly see Reagan-era back-ends feeding Clinton-era front-ends.
It’s not just in law enforcement, though – we see this condition across government.
Seeing the CfA Accelerator Class of 2013 standing together – the fugitive manhunters at StreetCred; the self-described “civics-nerds” at OpenCounter who streamline the process of getting small business permits and paperwork; the public procurement experts and bean-counters at SmartProcure; the family benefits experts at FAF, the storage and compliance experts at Archive Social – you’d never peg us as having anything in common.
What we see, though, is a group of people who, like a growing number of others, have decided that there are enough barriers to excellent performance of public service that we don’t need to have technology that’s awful. People who have decided that in this day and age, the technology used by government employees and the citizens they serve should be every bit as user-friendly, intuitive, informative and interactive as the website we use to buy a book, or an airline ticket, or to rent a car.
And that there’s no reason all this stuff shouldn’t just work better.
If you’re a software developer, designer or community manager then this year – this week – we urge you to look around at ways you can give back. Making donations to causes is great, but your time and your expertise – not just at coding, but also at re-imagining workflows, at designing new ways to approach problems – may be more valuable. If any of this speaks to you, you can start by applying to the Code for America Fellowship program – the application deadline is July 31st.
Technologists Wanted to Create New Apps for Our Cities
Are you a hacker with a huge heart? Code for America is looking for developers, designers, researchers, and product managers for its 2014 Fellowship.
If you want to make a difference while doing what you love to do, this is your chance — build apps that help municipal governments work better.
Cities are under greater pressure than ever, struggling with budget cuts and outdated technology. That’s why Code for America is connecting talented technologists with municipal governments to create and implement new web apps and explore new ways of resolving local challenges.
During previous years fellows have tackled problems such as criminal justice in NYC, economic development in Santa Cruz, Calif., and 311 in Chicago.
CfA fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences from high-profile positions at Google, Apple, and Microsoft to smaller startups to municipal government.
Why Become a CfA Fellow?
- Gov 2.0 Training. You will start with a crash course in municipal government and gain practical understanding of the vital intersection of government and technology.
- Connections. The biggest names in the tech industry and the Gov 2.0 movement will provide you with unparalleled networking, mentoring, and support.
- Professional Development. You will develop lasting relationships, learn new skills and languages in a fast-paced, startup atmosphere.
- Autonomy. Working in small teams with talented individuals you’ll decide what you build and how you build it — from start to finish.
- A Labor of Love. You’ll not only accomplish a lot and make the world a better place, but you’ll have a lot of fun working with other passionate people.
Applications are being accepted until July 31, 2013. This is an 11-month, full-time fellowship located in San Francisco. See http://codeforamerica.org/fellows for more information.
Apply online at: codeforamerica.org/apply