Over the past three years, as Code for America has grown, we have had the good fortune and deep pleasure of making friends with countless people from around the world who share our commitment to fostering more innovative government and engaged citizens. Cities like Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Helsinki (Finland) and organizations like the Open Knowledge Foundation and mySociety have been pioneering this open government movement globally and we’ve been following their progress closely.
We have been really energized by our conversations and collaborations with these groups and others, and there is great interest in figuring out how to build upon those interactions. As our focus in the U.S. has shifted to include network-building among civic technologists and city change-agents, we began to think about how we could build a network that included international partners as well.
I’m happy to say that over the past few months we’ve made an institutional commitment to building and facilitating that international network. Many people have asked me why, given how young Code for America is, we would commit to such a large undertaking. Here’s why:
First, the global open government movement is at an inflection point. Open government advocates are moving from an era of opening datasets to building actionable tools on top of that data, and more and more government officials are recognizing the importance of transparent and actionable data to the vibrancy of their communities and the well-being of their citizens. The Open Government Partnership, a coalition of countries committed to a set of standard practices around transparency and open government, is one high-profile signal of how open many officials around the world are to government innovation. Now is the right time to be working to connect governments and civic technologists at the local level, around the globe. By collaborating with governments to build capabilities and show what is possible, we hope we can complement the great work of those groups advocating for open government and open data policies.
Second, as programs similar to Code for America begin to take root in other countries, we think all of our work will be better if we’re connected. Our programs will be more efficient, we’ll be able to leverage each other’s tools and resources, we can share best practices and lessons learned, and we can create standards that will make it easier to sustain open government policy and programs. We have an opportunity to see how others around the world would do it, and learn from their models. It will make all of our programs stronger.
So, with that in mind, we’re setting out to grow a network of like-minded organizations around the world who are implementing similar programs where they live. All of us will share some key values but beyond those the programs will be structured according to what works best in the local context. In true lean startup fashion, we’re not waiting to get to work. We have three pilot partners who are going to be starting their programs in the coming weeks. All of them will be running fellowship programs, matching professional technologists with government agencies.
Code for Mexico City (CodigoDF): Led by Gabriella Gomez-Mont and her team, Code for Mexico City will be run from the city government’s Laboratorio para la Ciudad (LabPLC), a new initiative by Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera. The LabPLC is Mexico City’s office of civic innovation and urban creativity and will, much like the Departments of New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Philadelphia, work across the city’s departments to help develop innovative solutions to the city’s most entrenched problems, as well as to foster a community of innovators within the city government. The first class of CodigoDF fellows will be working with five departments: transport, health, tourism, ecology, and economic development.
CodigoDF is unique in that it only focuses on one city, but with a metropolitan area of 21 million people—larger than most of the world’s countries. The innovations created here have the potential to scale regionally, if not globally, and we’re excited about the prospect of plugging Mexico City’s leaders into our larger network of city officials.
Code for Germany (Code for All DE): Led by Julia Kloiber and Daniel Dietrich, Code for Germany will be a program of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s German chapter. The Open Knowledge Foundation is an open data and open government pioneer, and Julia and Daniel will bring a deep well of expertise on these issues to creating richer engagements with government. They have worked extensively to help governments to open up data and help others to make use of this data. As a think and do tank they run a series of well established programs within the field of civic apps and data and advise the government on open data policy issues.
Empowering others to engage with the government and building a community of best practice is always at the core of their activities in Germany. Code for Germany will build on the experience of the fellowship program Stadt, Land<Code> launched in 2012, creating a community of civic technologists building civic innovations. Much like Code for America, Code for Germany will operate at the national level and deploy fellows to multiple cities in the country.
Code for the Caribbean (@CodefortheCarib): Led by Matthew McNaughton, Code for the Caribbean is a regional program supporting the island governments of the Caribbean around shared goals for economic development through technology and innovation. Matthew is the founder of the SlashRoots Foundation, a Caribbean civic technology non-profit and developer community that organizes an annual open data conference and code sprint called Developing the Caribbean in collaboration with the Caribbean Open Institute and a number of regional partners. This year, Developing the Caribbean had simultaneous events in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Suriname, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic.
Code for the Caribbean will begin with a pilot program in Jamaica, in collaboration with the Rural Area Development Authority (RADA), an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, to address the problem of praedial larceny (the theft of livestock and crops from the field). The pilot is being led by the Mona School of Business & Management, SlashRoots, and the Caribbean Open Institute. The mission of the latter is to promote open data as a means toward greater economic development in the region. More on the pilot can be found here and here. To achieve this end, Code of the Caribbean is launching a Fellowship Program, where four chosen fellows will be embedded within RADA for a six-month period and—in addition to assessing additional needs of the organization—will create at least one application designed to combat praedial larceny. CftC intends to expand to other islands in future cycles.
The four of us will learn together, testing and iterating as we go, to establish a longer-term plan for adding new partners and creating a larger community. Along the way we’ll be publishing resources, as well as our thoughts about how the program is going. And we’ll be supported by an amazingly talented group of advisors who will help guide our vision.
There are likely many more of you out there doing this work and we’d love to hear from you. In the short term, we are focused on making sure these pilots are successful so we can sustainably grow the network. But we are actively working on ways to start building relationships with groups in as many countries as possible. If you’re interested in finding out more, send a note to international [@] codeforamerica.org and keep checking this space for updates.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.