Code For America: Coding A Better Government

Code for America was founded in 2009, with the goal of building open source technology and organizing a network of people dedicated to making government services simple, effective, and easy to use. Code for America connects programmers and local governments through one of five programs. The five programs – the Fellowship, the Brigade, the Peer Network, the Civic Startups program, and their International activities – have produced a large number of civic technology projects.

Code for America’s fellowship program has been compared to the Peace Corps or Teach for America. The Fellowship program sends teams of experienced technologists into local governments across the country to work full-time for a year in partnership with government officials. Fellows work on projects that focus on health, economic development, safety & justice, and citizen-government interaction. Examples of their work include:

  • Civic Insight (formerly BlightStatus) offers residents up-to-date information on the status of underutilized properties in their community.
  • Prepared.ly offers a simple interface for emergency preparedness with checklists and facts in order to help residents protect themselves against natural disasters.
  • TextMyBus provides a simple text messaging service to relay real time transit information to riders.
  • To The Trails is a responsive web application that helps citizens find information on any trail regardless of jurisdiction or the device they use.

Founder Jennifer Pahlka showcases her ideas in an inspirational TED talk about technology in government and discusses the impact of some of the fellows projects. During one section of her talk Ms. Pahlka says “It suggests how government could work better — not more like a private company, as many people think it should. And not even like a tech company, but more like the Internet itself. And that means permissionless, it means open, it means generative.”

Another aspect of the Code for America programs are Brigades which are volunteer groups that collaborate with local government and community partners to build new tools that help with local civic issues. Code for America supports Brigade chapters with resources, tools, and access to the wider civic technology movement. Code for America believes that government can work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century.

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