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What I Learned from the Midwest Regional Brigade Pilot

For the past six months, the Code for America Communities team, which manages the Brigade Program, has been running a regional Brigade pilot in the Midwest, headquartered in Chicago. I had the privilege of taking on this project as the Midwest Regional Coordinator. The pilot’s goals were to provide deeper support for Code for America Brigade cities in the region, as well as support new Brigades that are just getting started. The regional pilot helped jumpstart new Brigades in Cleveland and Rockford. The pilot also allowed for deeper engagement with existing Brigades in NebraskaDetroit, and several other cities. I’m excited to report that the pilot was a success and that we’ll be looking to expand regional support for Brigades in the future.

I learned a lot during the pilot and I want to pass that information along. Here are a few tips which I believe can help organizers across the network strategically consider how they support their teams.

Slack as communication tool made things much easier

Slack. is. awesome. Previously, Brigades were relying heavily on email communications, and we learned that isn’t the most efficient method in a network with over 54 chapters – particularly when somebody just has a quick question. The stuffed inboxes of the Communities team were creating a bit of a bottleneck. Now, people can post questions in the various Slack channels we designate to Brigade activities, and anyone in the Brigade community can help answer questions. Our International Brigade channel on Slack has become pretty big – and so we’re starting to see other regions forming their own channels. These new channels offer a proof point that regional communication is desired by most Brigade leaders.

1-on-1s were much easier than bigger hangouts

When the Brigade program was first starting out, we held Captains hangouts and they were great! However, not everyone can jump on a call all at the same time. People have odd schedules and live in different time zones, and it was actually easier to schedule one on one meetings with local organizers than it was with big hangouts. In the Midwest, having a Regional Coordinator to help facilitate conversation among a subset of Brigades has made 1-on-1 meetings happen for a longer period of time and more regularly.

We established a much easier onboarding process

I met with the Communities team regularly to ensure we were on the same page about how to onboard new groups into our network, and through those check-ins we all agreed our process was a bit convoluted. We got a lot of pushback from Brigades that were further along but didn’t want to bother with the complicated process, and were amazing contributors for the network otherwise. Now we have a modified the structure that ensures our alignment as coordinators, and allows more groups to get involved seamlessly.

Connections made across entire organization

One of the side effects of this project is that as a Regional Coordinator, I was getting a lot of requests to connect local people to other programs/teams at Code for America headquarters in San Francisco. While the original plan was to just work with the Brigades of the Midwest, being able to connect local organizers to all aspects of Code for America’s work has been extremely beneficial to both people and projects.

Presence at regional events

This year, the  National Association of Government Webmasters held their conference in St. Paul, MN. We had several speakers at the conference and we worked with OpenTwin Cities to host a meet and greet. Being able to attend as a member of the Communities team who is familiar with more local networks was really useful since we had a lot of Midwest network contacts from different cities attend.


In the the New Year

In 2015, the Communities Team and I are going to be implementing a lot what we learned from the regional pilot into various aspects of our organizing model and strategic plans – stay posted! In the meantime, You can find our more information about the Code for America Brigade and how to start one in your city by going to codeforamerica.org/brigade.