Monday, April 18, 2011

Code for America

Modeled after Teach for America, Code for America has the goal of bringing software coders and cash-strapped cities together to give government services a boost.  For example - - firefighters and programmers typically don't interact.  Yet in February, representatives of both gathered in Boston's City Hall, where fire department officials explained one of their wintertime worries - - snowbound fire hydrants.  The coders quickly responded with a website that mapped every hydrant in the city and encouraged residents to "adopt" each one and take responsibility for shoveling them out after snowstorms.

Founded by Jennifer Pahlka, her goal is to unite technologists and city employees.  In October, Code for America selected 20 fellows, who received a modest stipend ($35,000), moved to San Francisco, and committed to a year of public service.  The first class spent February talking to more than 400 city officials and residents in Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

All of the software is open-source - - free for anyone to adopt.  If Bostonians find a school-bus tracking software useful, Seattle can implement it also.  Pahlka's goal is to create a library of "civic software" that municipalities can draw on, helping them avoid spending money on projects that replicate others' work.  A secondary goal is about pulling technologists into public service - - the bytes and bits of public service.

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