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Build Week: Kicking off a Year of Building, Testing, and Making Change

Fellows Build Week

Team Vallejo shares ideas. Photo by Molly McLeod.

The Code for America office is buzzing with people and energy this week. The 2015 Fellows have arrived for a month of training and preparation before heading out to immerse themselves in their host governments in February. This is the 5th year of the Fellowship, and every year we refine the orientation program to better fit the needs of incoming fellows and partners.

So this week, the week of January 12th, the calendar is nearly blank and we’re really excited about that. Welcome to the first ever January Build Week!

What We Learned

January training has historically included a couple of days where the fellows build a small project, but every class said that wasn’t enough. It turns out that all the care and time we put into hiring people with a strong bias toward action results in, well, fellows with a strong bias toward action, who learn best by doing. Structuring most of their orientation month around lectures and sit-down workshops sent them to their intensive February residency already tired.

Like every class, the 2015 fellowship class includes individuals with strong skill-sets, from GIS to user-centered design to database engineering. They don’t need to learn those skills, but they do need to get used to the specific tools we use here, and to working with government data. Not to mention two brand-new teammates, strangers until a week ago, to establish solid working relationships with for the year.

Now, Make a Thing

Next week, we’ll return to offering clinics on research strategies and the structure of local government. But this week, every team has one goal: build something small and useful related to the issue area you’ll be working on in your city.

City partners are being introduced to their teams, sending over datasets, and setting up interviews for fellows.. Teams are holding stand-ups, figuring out how to make quick prototypes and test them, and starting to commit code. On Friday, the fellows will give their first informal presentation in the supportive environment of CfA HQ, preparation for all of the public talks and demos they will give this year.

Fellows Build Week

Team Albuquerque starts building. Photo by Molly McLeod.

It feels great to be doing instead of waiting.

Like anything that becomes clear after several rounds of iteration, it feels like we should have known to do this all along. That’s the nature of a user-centered process when the goal isn’t fully understood. We always knew the goal was “prepare the fellows for the fellowship year,” but we needed feedback from early partners and fellows to understand everything that that implied.

We’re asking more of this new class of fellows than of any class yet, and we hope we’re giving them and their partners the most useful support we’ve ever offered. We’re looking forward to what comes out of Build Week, as the very first iteration in a long, inspiring year full of building, testing, and making change together.