Code for America fellows and staff had the pleasure of hosting Aneesh Chopra, former CTO of the United States, here at the CfA office.

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Chopra gave shout-outs to the fellows as “innovators on the front lines,” and cited the Code for America fellowship as inspiration for the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. He also dived deeper into why government should be an “impatient convener” of the private sector and government when delivering technological innovation.

Hacking Federal Government
Code for America fellows typically work on city-level issues. Chopra brought a fresh perspective by updating everyone on challenges and successes in civic innovation at the federal level.

Chopra discussed some of the wide-ranging successes of federal initiatives to open government data, such as the creation of the blue button and green button initiatives out of the larger Open Data Initiative. These initiatives allow citizens to download and utilize their own health and energy data, respectively. Opening this data has opened the floodgates to the development of third party app developers like iTriage, which uses government data to power its health app’s symptom navigator and care facility locator service.

He also cited the revamp of the Federal Register website as a triumph of allowing government outsiders like civic hackers develop solutions through hackathons and open contests.

These successes, Chopra explained, stem from federal government agencies adopting a role as an “impatient convener” of government officials, citizen hackers, and others to adopt a speedier 90 day production cycle in the form of challenges and competition. The term “impatient convener” comes from one of the key tenets of the Open Innovator’s Toolkit, a federal guide to all levels of government to adoption open data and innovation standards. He sees this process as refreshing the lengthy, and often expensive RFP process into one that favors lightweight product ideation, demos, and then development with quick iterative cycles. These contests, which take the form of hackathons and datapaloozas, attract new talent to work on solutions that can create a widespread impact – in this case, all of the United States.

Federal Allies
More than a download on the latest federal civic tech undertakings, Chopra’s visit served as a reminder that civic innovators everywhere have advocates at the highest levels of government, like current US CTO Todd Park, US Congressman Jared Polis, and many more. We at Code for America are grateful for their service and thank Aneesh Chopra for stopping by!