Municipal Code[rs]

We’re six weeks into our beta launch of the Peer Network, CfA’s membership-based community of innovators who work in local government. So far, representatives from 42 cities and counties are helping us to pilot the new program.

Who are these innovators and where are they coming from? Well, they’re coming from all across the country, from Baltimore, to Atlanta to Oakland, Calif.:

View Peer Network Map in a full screen map

They’re self-identified “municipal coders” in the words of Greg Hermann, Head Nerd for the City of Carlsbad, Calif. (seriously, it’s on his business card). They’re Chief Innovation Officers, from cities big and small. They’re also folks who don’t have innovation anywhere in their job description, and still work tirelessly to bring new, creative approaches into city hall in order to better serve the public good.

They’re some of the original pioneers of institutionalized government innovation, like Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob, co-directors of the original Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston. Others are new in their roles, like Ashley Hand of Kansas City, Mo. and Deb Acosta from San Leandro, Calif.. They’re people like Kevin Roden, city councilman in Denton, Texas, who hosted a community hackathon at his own house. They’re entrepreneurial, ambitious, and dedicated to public service.

These people are already doing amazing work in their respective cities, and they gather through the beta Peer Network to connect, discuss shared challenges, and share best practices. We’re convening regular roundtable conversations and offering chances for training and mentorship from renowned experts both inside and outside government.

And the impact of this combination of resources and a network of highly capable practitioners has been heartening. For example, one of our first Peer Network trainings was with Alistair Croll, author of recently published bestseller Lean Analytics. He spent an hour with Peer Network members sharing how an iterative, measured approach to change can yield better results faster in local government.

The live training session sparked some insightful conversation amongst the 23 cities that joined, but the real surprise was what happened afterwards: One of the members who attended, who heads up an internal innovation working group in his city, passed on the video of the session to a colleague in Land Development who was interested but unengaged in the innovation group. The colleague watched it in his lunch break — and replied the next day to say he can’t stop thinking about it, sparking a discussion about how the Lean approach can be applied to government processes as diverse as fire prevention and business permitting.

These convenings and discussions have real potential to spread and scale innovation — between cities, and deeper within cities, as the above example shows. Often the critical first step to lasting change is sparking that initial conversation. And, as recent research points out, in local government these exchanges of actionable knowledge happen most often between networks of trusted, likeminded peers.

The fact is, this community has already existed informally for a long time. The Peer Network is simply formalizing structure, staffing, and resources to support and amplify the innovative work this group is already doing, both individually in their cities and collectively as a community. We are deeply honored to be working with such an exceptional, dedicated group of municipal coders — especially as we begin to ramp up our collaborative focus on big issues like data standards, procurement reform, and civic analytics — and look forward to seeing what we can accomplish, together.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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