I saw Jennifer Pahlka speak at SxSW about Code for America, which she founded in 2009. Here’s anther of her talks, this one for TED, which is well worth watching: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang///id/1381
She got me pretty excited about her ideas. She argued that the government should work more like the internet — permissionless, open, generative. Government as a platform; a way for people to help themselves, or help each other. I think she is right. She recruited the attendees to participate in the Code for America program with winning enthusiasm.
Code for America is a way to move towards the worthy goal of making the government work better. Several “fellows” are chosen each year. Young technologists volunteer a year of their life, they are assigned to a city and build apps to make that city better. Between SxSW, Transparency Camp, and other events I’ve attended, I’ve met many of the fellows for this year. They are amazing people and I’ve been impressed by them all.
According to the website:
CfA fellows get a crash course in how cities work, mentorship and networking with the top names in tech and government, and a platform to launch companies and careers that will bring long-term innovation to the public sector. They also get a living-wage stipend, travel expenses, and healthcare for the year. Most of all, they get the chance to be heroes.
Applications for the net cycle (Nov 2012 – Nov 2013) are due July 29. If I was younger and was in a situation where it was at all tenable, I would definitely apply. What a great way to spend a year! For people that can’t make that size of committment, they have also set up The Code for America Brigade where you adopt an app from a long list of great things CfA has created, and try to get it deployed. There is an encouragingly long list of active brigades listed on their website and is undoubtedly have a positive impact in the cities lucky enough to have one. The Brigade is a genius way to leverage the work of the CfA fellows.
That sounds fun too, but I’ve already committed to BillTrack50 as my way to try to make a difference. I have a deeply held belief that the world is full of smart people with great ideas (and also funny people, but that’s a different post). The better we can inform smart people about what the state legislatures are doing, and hook their great ideas into the process, the better off we all will be. State level is where the action is, where great ideas can make a big impact. Leah’s post about familial DNA is a great example how one guy, in this case Joshua Thurmond, is literally saving lives by spreading a smart idea.
To me, getting people more involved in the political process, beyond simply voting every four years, is work that matters. I’m proud to be doing it. I also feel what I am trying to accomplish is very much in the spirit of CfA, so I’ve applied for the Code for America accelerator. This is a program they have to support civic startups; in their words:
The CfA Accelerator is an outgrowth of our learnings from the fellowship; primarily a realization that while change from the inside of government is necessary, it must come from the outside as well.
I couldn’t agree more. The program they offer is amazing and would surely help me build something even more valuable to the community. Applicants are picked in June. Wish us luck!
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