Building the Code for America Commons

Over the last year, Civic Commons has grown from an experimental idea to a core resource for open innovation in government — a first stop for city officials, community leaders, and civic hackers who want to find out what civic technologies are working, where. In the nine months since the product launched at last year’s Code for America Summit, our growing community of contributors has documented more than 618 apps being used in 242 cities, with more being added every day.

Incubated as a collaborative experiment in civic innovation with Open Plans, Civic Commons has evolved to become a standalone, ongoing product offering at Code for America. And to better reflect Code for America’s ongoing commitment to developing this resource, we’ve decided to unite Civic Commons with our other programs by rebranding Civic Commons as the “Code for America Commons” (or CfA Commons).

We think this change will reaffirm the importance of the Commons to our work and goals as an organization, and set the stage to continue building upon all the great work from OpenPlans and others that’s gone into creating this resource so far.

The mission behind the Commons is foundational to our work here at Code for America: “Let’s find out what’s working where.” It’s about encouraging information exchange and sharing of best practices between civic innovators — government technologists, civic hackers, and entrepreneurs alike.

And as a platform for the collective knowledge of the greater CfA community, the Commons helps support our community’s other activities:

  • Government technologists (like the leaders in our CfA partner cities) can share what software they’re using and how it’s working, and discover what’s being used elsewhere. For example, Zoe Pagonis of Maryland Governor O’Malley’s office recently shared this story about how their office is using Twitter to bridge online and offline engagement. By creating a common platform for sharing strategies, successes, and challenges, the Commons can facilitate more informed decision-making in government IT.
  • Civic hackers (like our fellows and Brigade members) can learn what’s already been built, what’s working in other cities, and find new tools suited for their community’s needs. The Brigade uses the Commons to learn about the most promising and scaleable applications from across the civic hacker movement and track what’s being redeployed where — like Adopt-a-Hydrant, recently reused in Syracuse, N.Y.
  • Entrepreneurs (like our Accelerator companies) can learn what civic software already exists, identify areas where work is needed, and make their apps more discoverable by city officials and civic hackers. Our first class of Accelerator companies arrived in the office yesterday morning, and we hope that the Commons will be a valuable resource for them to both position their products and learn more about the existing civic startup landscape.

Since the Commons is a wiki (anyone can add to or edit the Commons), the value of the resource is a direct result of the community behind it. And as we expand our program offerings to reach an even wider community (the Accelerator is kicking off this week; new Brigades are constantly popping up around the country spurred by the Open Impact campaign; this year’s fellows are launching products right and left, and we’re already deep in the process of selecting cities for next year), we’re excited to see where the community can take the CfA Commons.

Any questions, suggestions, feedback, or ideas? Feel free to get in touch with us via email (commons [at] codeforamerica [dot] org) or Twitter (@cfacommons).

Check out the new Code for America Commons at

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