Marketing Visionary. Thinker. Thought-provoker. Curator. Blogger. Cupcake addict. #Crowdsourcing enthusiast. Interested in all things #startup. Especially in #civicgood, #gov20, #opengov, and #socialgov.

If There’s A Tech Bubble, Civic Tech Is Safe*

Since its founding in 2009, Code for America has spawned many successful projects including Civic Insight and LocalData, which are full-fledged startups that originally began as ideas conceived during a fellowship year. In the same vein, the civic engagement platform, MindMixer, a graduate of the 2012 CfA Accelerator, closed a $17 million series C funding round earlier this month. The company provides community organizations with a civic engagement platform.

Despite these success stories, sky-high valuations for tech startups like Airbnb, Uber, and Snapchat have led some Wall Street experts to speculate that we may be in a tech bubble. Could the civic tech ecosystem survive a burst? 

It can, and here’s why.

The product is necessary 

Civic tech startups help people better interact with government. Since citizen engagement is fundamental to democracy, there will always be a need for tools that foster interaction. 

The customer is willing and eager 

Governments are tired of traditional multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts. Because civic tech is affordable and agile, decision makers often approve its use in a matter of days and see its benefits just as quickly. 

The market is stable

The government marketplace is a stable one, even in a recession. Though budgets shrink, there will always be a budget. The government can’t go out of business. And if the last few years are any indication, tighter budgets will only spur more innovation. 

What civic tech companies are you seeing have an impact in your community? 

*this post originally appeared on The Toolbox.

Government Innovation vs Civic Innovation

In StateTechLouisville’s Chief of Civic Innovation Ted Smith explains: 

Government innovation is innovation in the delivery of government services. Civic innovation is innovation for public benefit.

Pioneering Smart Cities: What Separates Innovators From The Rest?*


Since Code for America’s inaugural year in 2011, 28 municipal governments have participated in the (CfA) Fellowship Program. Last year, officials from 80+ cities attended the annual CfA summit in San Francisco, when the Code for America civic innovation community gathers in person for three days of collaborating, connecting and learning. 

One of the main things that these municipal governments have in common is their willingness to innovate. Many have Chief Innovation Officers, who are charged with translating ideas of government innovation including open data initiatives, which are developed to identify better ways to use technology and spark the kind of citizen engagement that leads to action.  

For all of the cities that have embraced the Code for America ideal of open data and transparency there are numerous governments that haven’t. But why?

Change is hard

Historically, government is not known for innovation. Bureaucratic red tape, antiquated IT systems, and a “why bother” mentality are often cited as reasons for a government’s apathy toward innovation. In other words, change is hard. But it’s not impossible. 

Governments that have taken a forward-thinking approach to solving city problems have champions inside city hall. They have the support of executive leadership, departmental stakeholders, and usually a mid-level advocate that is committed to making the open data initiative a success and cutting the bureaucratic red tape. They have determined the best way to make data accessible given their current IT systems, and they have made sure that all key stakeholders are informed of the benefits of open data. 

There is also a strong correlation between interested and involved citizens and an innovative government – i.e., champions outside of city hall. For example, the Open Chattanooga CfA Brigade was a driving force behind Chattanooga’s open data commitment and one of the many brigades championing open and transparent government. Code for America Brigades work with local government and volunteers to hold regular civic hack nights and events. From there, they share their work with the Brigade Network consisting of 126 local brigades across the globe. 

The prospect of open government is daunting 

Another reason many municipalities have yet to embrace the open data movement is the fact that releasing and maintaining the data can be a daunting task. Cities have hundreds of datasets, and there are a lot of steps to take before releasing each one. So, open government advocacy groups stress the importance of keeping it simple. 

Rather than trying to release every dataset at once, smart cities have prioritized by releasing data that is readily available, shown success in other cities, and is most useful to citizens. Kansas City, MO, for example, goes straight to the public and asks them tovote on the data that they’d most like to see. 

Other successful cities like Boston, Louisville, and Chicago continually reevaluate the datasets and add more data as their programs develop. 

What’s next for Open Government?

The good news is that as the pioneering smart cities find success in their open data programs, others are jumping on the bandwagon and utilizing the resources provided by Code for America and other organizations. San Diego City Council approved an open data policy in July that was spearheaded by Open San Diego, a CfA Brigade. Minneapolis also passed an open data policy in July, and it too received input from the local CfA Brigade, Open Twin Cities. 

To find out more about joining or starting a Code for America Brigade in your city, click here

*this article originally appeared on The Toolbox

Code For America: A Peace Corps for Geeks? More Like an International Movement

Code for America (CfA) has been dubbed the Peace Corps for geeks because of its intensive yearlong fellowship, which recruits developers, designers, and program managers to work with local governments. Since its inception in 2009, CfA has dispatched teams of fellows to 32 locations across the country. But this program is just one facet of Code for America. The nonprofit has evolved into an international movement working toward a government for the people, by the people. 

Here are three of CfA’s other noteworthy programs pushing civic engagement and open government to the fore. 

Civic Startups: Creating a Civic Tech Ecosystem

With government finally embracing technology as a way to provide public services, civic startups – small, scrappy, innovative companies that use government data to produce software applications and government services – are on the rise. Now in its third year, Code for America’s startup program is comprised of an accelerator that provides funding, mentorship and networking for selected companies, and an incubator for companies formed by past fellowship teams. All of the program’s graduates are still running, which is an impressive fact considering that as many as 90% of all tech startups eventually fail. 

The Peer Network: Changing Government from Within

The Peer Network is a professional learning network for government officials and public servants. Through regular trainings, discussions, and events, Code for America facilitates the transfer of ideas, and fosters new practices and policies so that government workers can make changes from within. In 2013, initiatives included passing legislation to support open data, adopting common data formats, designing services with new citizen-centric techniques, and experimenting with better approaches to procuring technology.

The Brigade: Mobilizing Citizen Engagement 

For citizens that want to take a hands-on approach to improving their communities, the Code for America Brigade brings participatory government to a whole new level. Working alongside local government, brigades of volunteers hold regular civic hack nights and events, advocate for open data, and deploy apps. Then, they share their work with the Brigade Network – a total of 126 local brigades, 76 of which are in the US and 50 international. 

Coming up next in part two of my Toolbox’s three-part series on Code for America, I’ll take a look at the cities embracing the CfA mission and how it’s impacting their citizens. 

*this blog post originally appeared on The Toolbox

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