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The Brigade Effect

People aren’t just watching, talking, and tweeting about civic technology–they are acting! Over the week of February 25 – May 4, passionate citizens around the country came together to “Code Across America.” Eight events were organized by the 2012 Fellows and eight events were organized by civic leaders in other cities as part of the new Code for America Brigade. These heroic volunteers are the foundation of our growing network of civic hackers.

The Code for America Brigade is an organizing force for a growing community of developers, designers, data scientists, and local leaders who want to use their skills to make a governments and communities work better for everyone using the people and the power of the web.

The following are five short stories from Code Across America that describe what is achievable when we organize “the people and the power of the web” around common goals and a shared mission.

Raleigh Discovers “The Brigade Effect”

The co-founders of LocalWiki were at Code for America headquarters recently to talk about featuring their local knowledge sharing app on the Brigade platform. They want to build on the success of the #codeacross event where approximately 50 people collaborated on a soft launch of trianglewiki.org in Raleigh, N.C. The enthusiasm of the Raleigh community captured by the simple graph they showed us that tracks edits since the start of the project in October, six months prior. Leaders from Raleigh, like Reid Serozi, Jason Hibbets, and Bonner Gaylord worked for months with Philip Neustrom from LocalWiki to build a base of 1000 pages. When trying to decide how to get “over the hump” of 750 pages, they turned to CityCamp Raleigh and Code for America Brigade to get it done.

What did this community accomplish in one day? 633 page edits, 100 maps, 138 new photos.

Though we can’t claim credit for all of their hard work and success, they honored us by calling it “The Brigade Effect.”

Showing “What’s Possible” in NOLA

At the New Orleans event, the executive director of 504HealthNet, Lindsay Ordower, made a plea to the tech community that gathered for Code Across America to help her make information about free and low-cost health clinics more accessible to citizens through their mobile phones. A determined team of five quickly assembled around her. Lindsay explained that while many NOLA citizens without health insurance do not have reliable access to the internet via a computer, a large percentage do have web-enabled mobile phones which would allow for much quicker and more widespread distribution of this valuable information than her paper booklets currently provides. The team got straight to work and made significant headway, presenting a working minimum viable product (MVP) at the end of the day. The app allows users to search for health clinics in their area by location and insurance accepted.

Every time she’d leave her group huddle she’d have a big smile in her face and kept saying “I can’t believe this is possible!”

Open Chattanooga Deployed the OpenTripPlanner by “Plugging into the Network”

Open Chattanooga challenged themselves to deploy OpenTripPlanner at their Code Across event, but they didn’t quite make it. When we talked to organizer Tim Moreland we learned about the status of the project. So we connected Tim with Frank Hebbert and other friends at Open Plans – a week later an instance of OpenTripPlanner was up and running in Chattanooga. Afterward, Tim sent us this kind note:

I wanted to drop you two a line to say thanks for your support and encouragement. After talking with you I took some of your advice and re-applied to our work with OTP. The long and short of it is that our team was able to get it working over the weekend….Our next steps will be to meet with several local agencies that have expressed interest in the app after we spend a few more days polishing the webapp. We are launching a bike share program next month so it is really going to be great to have this ready for the launch.

The Mayor of Macon Learns Google Docs

One goal of Macon’s Code Across event was to convene the local tech community to consider how their skills could make a difference for the local government and community. In Macon, the most active groups organized around technology are the ones meeting at the local library for classes in skills like Advanced Google Search. When the Mayor Robert Reichert showed up at the event, 2012 Fellow Jessica Lord got him started on Google Docs.

Every city lies on a spectrum of open government in terms of their level of understanding, acceptance, and practice. Code for America meets cities at their level of capacity for civic technology change.

Building Communities Where None Existed

During Code Across America several cities worked to deploy instances of open source software for various purposes. Open San Diego saw the need for an open data catalog and pulled one up by the bootstraps. Leaders, Jed Sundwall and Jeff Johnson, of Open San Diego got it done but had lingering questions about how to proceed. Open Lexington and Open Colorado have both been evaluating open data catalog platforms and heard about ODC. They all want help choosing the right technology and developing a methodology around using the technology effectively. In Philadelphia, Open Data Philly and Azavea created the software everyone is using. It’s called Open Data Calatog, or ODC, and it’s open source. Open Chattanooga is another city that successfully deployed ODC. Yet there was no support system around the software and no connection between these groups. The Brigade provided and facilitated the connections needed and now there is a entire community of support around ODC, specifically, and open data catalogs, in general.

It is interesting to consider how much happened immediately after Code Across America.

Stay Connected!

Local civic hacking communities connected through Code Across and remain connected
through Fellowship, Brigade, or Accelerator. In each local community online collaboration has propagated. We’ve used email forums, IRC channels, Twitter, and Google Hangouts – a favorite among everyone. Some communities are more active than others. Some may not hang on. Ultimately, it’s progress of a kind to which we all aspire to make.

More in-person events are sure to follow so stay connected.

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