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Bringing “Change By Us” To Our Cities & The Commons

Our fellows are trained to ask questions first, code later. Throughout the year our teams in Seattle and Philadelphia conducted extensive, on-the-ground user research, developing a deep understanding of how to empower local civic leaders. What they learned was that there was a great amount of energy and enthusiasm in both cities for civic participation, but they lacked some modern tools to turn those ideas into action.

With that understanding in mind, they started experimenting, trying out different things, prototyping solutions, and testing them with users. Things like Q/A sites or social toolkits; marketing platforms and online calendars. Based on all the feedback, they came to the conclusion that the core need was for tools to help civic leaders draw attention to their projects and also work with each other to pool resources.

Enter Change by Us. Created by New York-based media design firm Local Projects and national urban advocacy non-profit CEOs for Cities, Change by Us is a tool that enables citizens to connect with their local governments and each other to share ideas and collaborate on projects for city improvement. Change By Us launched in New York City in July and was made possible with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Technology for Engagement Initiative and The Rockefeller Foundation.

In New York, it is currently being used to find out ways to make the city more environmentally friendly: citizens are asked to text in their ideas, and then they are grouped with others with similar interests and can organize to make something happen. We saw great potential in Change by Us as the platform for us to serve the needs of civic leaders in our cities — and in others across the country. Especially when reuse and collaboration are core to our model, and how we think governments themselves need to be operating in the 21st century.

So today, we’re pleased to announce that we’re partnering with Local Projects and CEOs for Cities to launch Change By Us in Philadelphia and Seattle and make it publicly available for any other city interested in deploying it. This partnership allows the Code for America teams to leverage the Change By Us platform in our cities, and to enhance it, based on user research, by adding features to connect the projects to social media and makes it easy for neighbors to share skills, time and resources.

We’re also excited about bringing this platform into the Commons. Mjumbe Poe, Aaron Ogle, Tyler Stalder, and several other fellows on the Philadelphia and Seattle teams have already been going through the platform, generalizing the code, and documenting the software, so that any city could deploy it, or any developer could help make it even better. Over the next few months they’ll continue that work in conjunction with the Local Projects teams, including relicensing the code. When they’re done in October, the Change by Us platform will be available for implementation or customization by other government users and developers. We’re proud to help spread an important tool for civic participation, along with CEOs for Cities and Local Projects who will also continue their work, rolling out the platform in cities across the country.

This partnership has really just begun, and we’re excited to see unfold. We’re thrilled to be working with CEOs for Cities and Local Projects — friends of ours in more ways than one. We’re confident that together, we’ll develop a better product and make a bigger impact.

Check back for frequent updates on where we are and where we’re heading.