Code for America’s Code of Conduct

Code for America for the first time developed a Code of Conduct for use by all activities in the Code for America network. We decided to formulate these as a proactive way provide for a whole, positive, and safe environment in the community we’re helping to build.

The Code of Conduct is on GitHub for a reason: this is the first version of principles and practices, and they are open to change by the community it aims to serve. The words are fresh but ever imperfect, and the principles come from only so many voices. If you want to chisel this stone, please submit a GitHub issue.

The Code of Conduct began as a document to cover Brigade meetings and events. Several folks at Code for America called for it to cover all of the Code for America activities and events. That shift and feedback from Fellows, Captains, and staff resulted in the current version of the Code of Conduct. We changed or cut some important points, which we explain below.

“Brigade events are not places to pitch startup ideas.”
The Communities team included this statement to encourage Brigades to focus on producing free and open source projects that are useful to everyone in their cities, and to give Captains and leaders cover to keep Brigades from becoming focused on for-profit business. Several Brigade Captains and Fellows pushed back against the statement, citing Brigade meetings as ideal breeding grounds for civic startups and fledgling companies to connect with community members. Some Brigades are fruitful networking environments for professionals. So, we left it out of the Code of Conduct.

“We strive to build free tools…”
Brigades are not free labor for governments or for private companies. They are community groups. The intention with this statement is to build the ecosystem and value of free and open technologies and processes. We support the idea that Brigades will create some projects that will operate in the private sector, which Code for America supports with our Accelerator program. While we endorse free and open, participants in Code for America hackathons and network hack nights are free to work on what they want to. We strongly encourage people to use an open license, but we don’t require it. For example, a university may want to participate in a hackathon and might bring in intellectual property that it owns — a real issue that Captains raised.

“Less heard voices” and “listen as much as speak…”
Some staff wanted to combine these two points, which currently are principles 6 and 8. The framing of the first point is about participants not dominating conversation and opening the floor for others’ opinions. The second point is explicitly designed to support those who are traditionally excluded from technology development and civic decision-making to build the processes and tools for those least served by prevailing systems. To reduce confusion, we changed the language in principle 8 to “traditionally excluded,” which was inspired by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition principle of “participation.” (LINK:

“We work to ensure that all demographics present in a community are represented.”
We are having a hard time thinking of a better framing for this principle than “demographics,” so we invite creative word-smithing — submit a GitHub issue if you have a better way to phrase this. Prescriptive descriptions undercut the power people have to define themselves, but we want to be clear that the civic technology movement should provide a representative place for all community members in a municipality.

So take a look, submit a GitHub issue, and help us continue building a Code of Conduct that is inclusive and representative of our community.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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