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Monday, March 18, 2013

Strategic CSR - Code for America

The article in the url below reveals the power of the internet, as well as providing a way to reinstall faith in government. In particular, it discusses the idea of “Government 2.0,” which draws on “online power to tackle offline problems from city hall on up.” One nonprofit highlighted is Code for America:
“… a kind of Peace Corps for geeks. This Gov 2.0 standout handpicks a team of sprightly tech stars each year to give up their lives and jobs for 12 months, offer their services to local governments nationwide and bring the Web to the wide-eyed. This year there are 26 fellows for eight cities, and 550 have applied for the 25 to 30 spots next year. Average age: 28.”
Given the opportunity, these young programmers bring innovative approaches to solving long-standing social problems in fractions of the time that government agencies take to introduce solutions that are half as effective:
“CfA fellows have designed more than 35 apps, for everything from urban blight to school buses. In New Orleans, they coded a system to more accurately sort the backlog of properties for demolition. In Santa Cruz, Calif., they're streamlining the application process to open a business. The group runs an Accelerator for civic start-ups. Its work presses governments to make information more visible (530 data sets liberated) and helps communities to mobilize (write-a-thons with 2,500 people).”
Some of the solutions are simple and some more complex, but all seem to be effective and have broad applicability:
“In Boston, snowed-in fire hydrants were a safety hazard. So CfA coded a gamelike Web app inviting locals to adopt hydrants and keep them clear for firefighters. That app went viral: CfA adapted it for Honolulu's tsunami warning sirens (which require battery checks), Seattle's clogged storm drains and Chicago's snow-piled sidewalks.”
Part of the initiative’s secret is to treat the group as a start-up firm, rather than a government agency:
“Government spending on information technology in 2012 is set at $79.5 billion federally and $55.4 billion for state and local. Meanwhile, to complete one government project—estimated at two years and $2 million—it took a couple of CfA fellows just 2½ months. Here's the trick: CfA fellows are based in an airy warehouse in San Francisco. They bond with each other, not with local bigwigs. … Then, when they fan out to do five-week research residencies within city governments across the country, they act less like sufferers from Stockholm syndrome than a stealth team of computer-savvy SEALs.”
The innovation is bringing an open source mentality to local government:
“Opaque is out. Openness is the next generation's default setting when they're up against big problems. And their attitude isn't just easygoing; it gets results.”
Take care
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A Peace Corps for Civic-minded Geeks
By Holly Finn
August 25-26, 2012
The Wall Street Journal