In the past year, Code for America has gone through some changes, refining our values and role in the world of civic tech. At its core, the work remains the same: breaking down barriers to make government work well for everyone. But how it’s doing that is evolving—while sticking to our principles of listening first, including those who have been excluded, and acting with intention. The same is true for the entire Code for America Network, and for Code for Houston. Together, we’re building a path forward that centers the needs of the communities we work in, while scaling local knowledge to make a national impact.
The Network’s evolution
To understand the needs of the Network, Code for America did what it always does first: Listen. Over 10 months, we hosted fireside chats, forums, conference sessions, and town halls. The thoughts and ideas shared by Network members were invaluable.
We learned that while we meet many volunteers’ needs, not everyone sees their place in the movement. Here’s a shared experience: A curious solutions designer or engineer shows up to an Open Project Night. They want to use their skills in service of a project that would benefit their community, but aren’t sure where they plug in, or there are no active projects for them. We are working to build a more welcoming, conducive, and productive experience for volunteers like this.
The Network is changing in five major ways:
- Strengthening our community-based partnerships alongside our government partnerships. In the past, our stated mission was that Brigades support local government in volunteer capacities. Now, local partnerships with community groups and organizations will be key in this effort. This is where we live our values of being human-centered and empathetic, while also effectively and sustainably offering direct value to our communities.
- Scaling Code for America’s knowledge and practices by introducing Communities of Practice (CoP). Aligned with necessary skill sets like human-centered design, qualitative research, solutions engineering, and data analysis, these Communities of Practice offer volunteers new experience in community-building skills like facilitation, active listening, and managing conflict.
- Creating National Action Teams that engage volunteers from across the country working on the same issue in their individual communities. National partners will help us develop sustainable solutions that can scale and increase the impact of our work across multiple communities.
- Building structures for participatory government in the Network. Registered Network members will participate in decision-making strategies, including the allocation of a portion of Brigade donations and the structure and content for our annual events like Brigade Congress. If we wish to see a government that is open, transparent, iterative, people-centered, and radically inclusive, we must practice that ourselves.
- Resourcing Brigades with what they need to develop strong community partnerships, which can include, for example, helping Brigades develop open calls for proposals to be sent to community groups and potential partners.
So what does this look like in practice? Remember that curious designer/engineer? They can now find Code for America’s new Solutions Engineering Community of Practice, a virtual group of peers refining their craft and learning from others in the discipline. It’s there that they learn about and join our National Action Teams, diverse groups from all over the country working on timely issues with a national partner. In 2022, this work includes evaluating the 911 emergency response system in partnership with Transform911. They now have the ability to join members of the National Action Team to add their data and draw out scaled solutions that might serve multiple communities’ public safety needs, and leverage the unique power of local Brigades like Code for Houston to drive impact close to home.
Brigades are where people from the community come together to build new tools to address civic issues. We’re where people, partners, tech and talent work together for the greater good!
Brigades have been a critical part of Code for America since the early days of the organization. Volunteers have shown up for their communities again and again—keeping voters informed during hectic election years, partnering with local governments to expunge old criminal records, and ensuring that COVID-19 vaccine information is accessible and easy to understand, among other projects. They embody Code for America’s belief in people power—that the best solutions for communities come from the community members themselves. Moving forward, Brigades will have the support they need in those partnerships to go beyond one-off projects and instead build impactful solutions powered by community investment and feedback. And everyone in the Code for America Network will have a clear understanding of where and how they make an impact.
We’re in this together. The goal is, and always has been, to build with, not for.
Whether this is your first time hearing about the Code for America Network or Code for Houston, or if you took a break and are looking to come back, we have the same message: Now is a great time to join us! We’re excited about this evolution of the Network, where there will be many more opportunities for volunteers to plug in on national and local projects and grow their skill sets with peers who share their functional areas of interest. There’s a seat at the table for everyone who wants to be part of this new phase of our purpose and impact, and we hope you’ll join us in setting forward a new vision that puts communities at the center.
Interested in volunteering with the Code for America Network? Join Code for Houston or find another Brigade to see what projects are happening in your community—or join our 911 National Action Team to find ways you can apply your skillset in service of reimagining our emergency response system to be more equitable. Want to meet peers with your skillset? Keep an eye out for our inaugural Community of Practice, coming soon!
This post has been edited from Code for America’s original message on CodeForAmerica.org March 9, 2022, to include and reflect the context, perspectives, and similar evolution of Code for Houston.