Code for America: Making Government Data Accessible

What happens when you unleash geek-level talent to tackle data-driven real-world problems in local government? Ask the 8 cities where Code for America Fellows and their city partners developed more than 25 applications to meet specific goals in 2012. Chicago requested help to manage over 4 million service request calls and CfA built a request manager to track every action taken through to closure. Honolulu’s project to create a database of answers was a collaborative effort with citizen writer volunteers. And Boston’s Adopt-A-Hydrant program to enlist residents to shovel out hydrants during heavy snow storms has been replicated in 8 other communities for tasks varying from tsunami sirens to storm drains.

Code for America founder Jen Pahlka wanted to show what’s possible with all the data municipalities store, and to use that data to make government work in the 21st century. Fellows are selected to work for a year and are matched with one or more project cities. The pay is modest, but comes with professional development, travel expense reimbursement, and health care. When the Fellowship ends, the technologists move on to new positions, or, in some cases, form a start-up company around their application.

That was the case for an application developed for Philadelphia to increase input to the Planning Commission. Textizen is an innovative solution developed using posters and bus shelter ads to solicit responses using SMS text messages. Its simplicity and effectiveness have brought it to the attention of several other cities. Find it at:

Pahlka expanded the scope of CfA’s programs in 2012: Brigades are local organizations that redeploy the open-source code developed by CfA; Accelerators supports start-ups in the government arena; and the Peer Network connects cities to promote open data best practices and standards. Brigades are currently active in 40 cities (plus Ireland and Japan). StreetCred has benefitted from the Accelerator program and now markets their program to manage outstanding warrant information for police officers. The Peer Network went live in April and continues to recruit individuals working in government to a conversation on launching an open data catalog, rethinking the citizen experience, and leveraging community as capacity.

To see Jen Pahlka’s Ted talk, go to Code for America website is:


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