But collaboration isn’t always easy. It takes commitment from both parties, time, and a willingness to walk the proverbial mile in one another’s shoes.
To help citizens get started in their community, we’ve put together the guide How To: Collaborate with Government. We wanted to share a list of 10 tips for reaching out and collaborating with government.
10 Ways to Reach Out & Collaborate with Your Local Government
Get to Know Your City & Local Government
- The best way to get started working with the local government in your city is by getting to know it. Do some research, either by yourself or with your Brigade at a hack night.
- Some useful questions to answer include: Does your city have a strong mayor–council system, a weak mayor–council system, or a council-manager system? Who is the mayor and who is on the city council? Are there any departments or government employees that would make good allies for your Brigade?
Attend City Council Meetings
- Send a representative from your Brigade to each city council meeting. They can take notes and report back to your Brigade on the meeting’s outcomes, city priorities, and any opportunities for overlap with current Brigade projects or opportunities for new projects.
- City Council meetings are also great places to advocate for policies your Brigade would like to see, such as open data or procurement reform. They’re also great venues for you to show support for the work your local government is doing. It’s important to recognize when your city does great work in addition to advocating when you want to see something change.
Start a Conversation
- Once you’ve gotten familiar with your local government, you’ll probably get a sense of the department heads, councilors, or executives whose interests or areas of expertise overlap with your Brigade’s.
- Ask these folks to meet up for lunch or coffee. Understand what they’re passionate about. See if there’s any overlap with what you want to do and with technology. The more you meet with members of your local government, the faster you can learn about their processes, systems, constraints, intentions, and desires.
Extend An Invite
- One of the most important and productive interfaces for collaborating with local government is being in a room together, collaborating on solving problems face-to-face. Local government staff might not know about your group or how they can participate.
- Ask them to come to your meetup or hack night. Invite them to participate in a Q&A or give casual presentation on their department to your group.
- As Raleigh, N.C. Brigade Captain Jason Hibbets says, “[Having local government at our events] makes it so much easier because we can eliminate a lot of assumptions we have about data or programs or how things work in city government that can help us move the needle faster.”
Find a champion(s) in City Hall
- As you meet with folks in City Hall and as they come to your hack nights, it’s more likely that they’ll become engaged and enthusiastic about your group and the work it’s doing. As these champions emerge, make sure to find ways to keep them in the loop on what you’re doing and let them know how they can help.
- As Hibbets also says, “You’ve got to find the champion. You’ve got to find your city councilor or department head who’s into technology, who’s into this stuff. That’s been pretty critical to our success.”
Find quick wins
- Is there a city project that has an easy technical solution? Are there city officials or departments interested in learning more about open source and open data?
- Finding quick ways to prove your skills and the value your group can bring, whether they’re developing technology or helping your local government better understand your community, is one of the easiest ways the garner support from them.
Meet in City Hall
- If 80 percent of success is really just showing up, showing up and meeting at City Hall can go a long way. Brigades such as Open Oakland (Calif.) and Code for Kansas City hold meetups in City Hall. In Virginia Beach (Va.), the Captains have earned a “hall pass” — badges that let them meet with city staff where they work on the municipal campus.
Collaborate On A Project or Co-host An Event
- Once you’ve established relationships with those in your local government, start working on something together. Whether it’s collaborating on an app or co-hosting an event, producing something together is rewarding.
Keep the Dialogue Going
- As you build more and more relationships with local government, make sure to keep your contacts in City Hall in the loop. Continue to invite them to your meetings, make sure they’re aware of what’s happening and of your objectives.
- And don’t get discouraged if you hit roadblocks or go through periods where there are lulls. As Raleigh, N.C. Brigade Captain Chad Foley says, “Be patient. It’s going to take time to establish and build those relationships.”
Join Citizen Advisory Councils
- If there are commissions or councils in your city that overlap with areas your Brigade is working on, join them! In Austin, Texas, Brigade Captain Chip Rosenthal is the Vice Chair of the Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission.
- Conversely, invite interested local government employees to be your Brigade’s municipal sponsor or co-captain. Open Asheville, N.C. is lead by city staff in the GIS department with the support of the CIO. Code for Raleigh’s (N.C.) Chad Foley works for the city and co-captains the Brigade.
Do you have tips from experiences collaborating with your local government? Share them with us! Hit us up @codeforamerica.