Code for America held its annual Summit in San Francisco last week and Joel and I were honored to have been part of the presentation. We’ve both been involved with Code for America for some time, and its amazing to realize all the organization has done in just a few short years.
This year’s Summit hosted more than 450 people representing more than 80 cities. The gathering has grown significantly from the 150 people crammed into the SPUR center hearing about the inaugural projects in Boston (where Joel was a CfA fellow), Philadelphia, and Seattle.
What was most exciting about this year’s gathering was a sense that this movement has become somewhat mainstream. CfA’s Founder, Jen Palhka, is serving in the White House and Mayors like San Francisco’s Ed Lee and Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter as well as Mayor Bloomberg in New York are using the tools and techniques espoused by CfA to attract and retain businesses, improve transportation services, and increase the quality of life for residents in their communities.
Smaller Cities, like South Bend (whose brilliant mayor Pete Buttigieg gave the best talk on economic development that I’ve ever heard at the Summit) or Louisville, Ken. are using open data and citizen engagement to drive economic growth and improvements to existing programs and services.
In the 2013 Summit’s economic development tract, we were honored to share the stage with this year’s fellowship team from Las Vegas, and former Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who focused her talk on our shared end goal, to decrease the cost of delivering results for public agencies and increase citizen satisfaction.
Joel and I used our time on stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to talk about the underutilized economic potential that entrepreneurs represent in cities. Each year, more than half a million new businesses are created in the United States, creating the majority of new private sector jobs and a large percentage of private sector payroll.
We believe that by making the interface to existing City processes easier to understand for these small business owners, that Cities will be able to leverage those relationships when some of these companies grow to become pillars of the local economy.
Tools like OpenCounter can also help policy makers gain greater insight into how local ordinances and policies affect entrepreneurs. We’re intrigues with the idea that by tracking applications over time, we can help policy makers figure out where the hot neighborhoods and projects are happening, which can then drive local wayfinding and neighborhood branding efforts, as well as guide investments in small business support programs like facade improvement grants and investments in street amenities like streetlights, banners, street trees, parking and sidewalks.
We’re happy to note that this data driven approach to setting policy was one of the major themes of the Summit, whether in delivery of food assistance, public safety, or transit services. At the end of the second day, the brilliant Mike Bracken, the director of digital for the UK Government, sum up his work to deliver better services online for citizens, including some dramatic visualizations of how online offerings are performing for Her Majesty’s government.
Those visualizations can drive not only service delivery improvements but inform future policy directions, while improving the citizen interface to their local government. Its an ambitious goal, but one that is now within reach, thanks in part to all the folks gathering around Code for America’s movement.
This is cross-posted from opencounter.us.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.