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#CfASummit Day 1 from the Main Stage

The #CfASummit kicked off today with an inspiring morning of main stage talks that left everyone eagerly anticipating the afternoon’s hands-on breakout sessions. Together we imagined 21st century government and technology, got comfortable with defining it, and saw the real-life practices, tools, values, and impact.

The Takeaways:

Transforming government for the 21st century encodes our values. It doesn’t just change tools, but it fundamentally changes how we work. 21st century starts with users. It requires research, is iterative, is creative, involves our community, and really works for the people, by the people.

The Talks:

David Eaves warmed the crowd with his opening remarks and introduced Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka. Jennifer welcomed the over 1200 attendees to the Summit, acknowledging the expanding civic tech movement and Code for America community. This entire community, Jennifer noted, supports each other. And, as Jennifer said it’s the times when things don’t go well and we have to weather the storm together that community is especially important.

Jennifer turned her remarks to pay a touching tribute to Jake Brewer, who passed away last week. Jake was a dear friend to us at Code for America, as well as one of Code for America’s first supporters and champions. He created community wherever he went, Jennifer said. Catherine Bracy also honored Jake, and reminded us that “while we did lose a family member, our civic tech community also lost a hero.” At the end of Catherine’s remarks, we stood to honor Jake and pledged to live by his example, cultivate the karass, and recommit to our responsibilities as citizens


Jake Brewer Photo. Photo Credit: Charlotte Hill

Taking up the theme of being a committed citizen, Jennifer returned to the stage to introduce Mayor Libby Schaaf. Mayor Schaaf warmly welcomed us to Oakland, a city that is truly dedicated to its citizens. Her remarks celebrated the inclusive diversity of the City of Oakland and the tech that the City government is developing to match it. As Mayor Schaaf said, “it’s not about the tech–it’s about the people.”

Defining a “21st Century Government”

Jake Solomon asked us to imagine a few things: What if government came “installed” he asked. What if when someone lost their job they received a text from the government offering enrollment in unemployment, or information on health benefits. Jake reminded us that right now, “We have the chance to build government services that can put people first”

To illustrate how Jake and his team put this into practice, he talked about CfA’s work in health to deliver SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to the people who need it. By focusing on user needs and putting people first they were able to simplify the enrollment process from pages of paper to an easy to understand digital form. Users are able to enroll in SNAP benefits easily and privately from their computers or mobile-devices instead of standing in line at a city office. They are delivering health services with dignity.

Harlan Weber, Code for Boston Brigade Captain, shared insights on how to include local community in coding work. He defined Code for Boston as, “Mission-driven startup, advocacy group, tech meetup, and social club.” Don’t just design for the community, design with the community, Harlan said. Code for Boston creates a friendly, welcoming, safe space to code that keeps people in the community coming back week after week to work on civic tech solutions. Their work with Youth Hub brought 500 youth participants to the National Day of Civic Hacking, as subject matter experts and partners working with Code for Boston to build an app for them. The app delivers curated job trainings and job opportunities, developed to meet the needs of youth.

Using Oakland’s involvement in Digital Front Door as an example, Karen Boyd, the City of Oakland’s Director of Communications, emphasized Oakland’s commitment to putting user-centered design and digital service delivery first. In Karen’s words: digital is no longer an option. Oakland delivers services based on Equity, Simplicity, and Trust. Trust is the foundation of 21st century government. Oakland is digital by default. Oakland designs for real world users, tests those designs, and knows the process is iterative and ongoing.

In a challenge discussion, Emily Castor, Lyft’s Director of Transportation Policy, talked with panelists on data-driven decisions in public transit and public-private partnerships. Each panelist offered thoughts on how we integrate public-private transportation and new technologies. Some conclusions: Extend equitable transportation access to low-income neighborhoods. Everybody needs transportation all the time—with convenience and flexibility. Exisiting public transportation services can be supplemented by private services in cities instead of being replaced.

21st Century Tools: How Technology Encodes Practices

This morning closed on a hopeful and inspirational note with a discussion of how technology encodes the values we seek to put into practice for 21st century government. Cyd Harrell, CfA’s Director of Product, opened with a different spin on iterative technology, discussing the development and improvement of the baseball glove, and other pre-digital tools:

She set the central theme for the panel—and the Summit when she said: “Tools have incredible power to help people do what they need to do.” And then asked: “How do we create specific tools that support the practices we aspire to at the level we need?”

The next four panelists spoke to this, sharing the powerful tools they made and the values they encoded.

Lindsay Mollineaux, NYC’s Deputy Analytics Officer, discussed the NYC Business Atlas: a web application that uses open data to provide entrepreneurs with detailed information about economic activity, demographics, foot traffic and other key business metrics around locations they are considering. Lindsay credits the development of the NYC Business Atlas to putting these practices: Engaging, Demonstrating Value, and Translating insight into action.

Jonathan Feldman, Asheville’s Chief Information Officer, shared the practices the City of Asheville adopted through building and using SimpliCity. SimpliCity, as Jonathan says, is city data simplified. It’s an easy way to get the information you need from your government. But, building Simplicity was just the tip of the iceberg. It changed the way they operated. The City of Asheville team got out of the building, did usability testing, came to CfA 2014 Summit, and started designing for the people.

Jack Madans, Product Growth at CfA, talked about CityVoice, the place based call-in system for gathering, sharing, and understanding community feedback. Developed by the 2013 South Bend CfA fellowship team with the City of South Bend, CityVoice gives residents an easy way provide feedback—anyone with a phone can call in and record their message. As Jack said, it meets people where they are and makes involved and active citizenship truly accessible.

Alex Soble, 2015 Somerville CfA fellow and Uri Harel, the Elementary Curriculum Coordinator for Somerville Public Schools shared “Somerville Student Insights,” the tool they worked on to help students in Somerville schools get what they need for successful learning outcomes. Student Insights tracks and coordinates services to facilitate the learning success of students, and prompts collaboration between educators and school officials. With the development of the tool, the Somerville school system’s values were prioritized: supporting students, intervening instead of reacting, caring for and providing the best possible learning environment for their students.

Special guest Megan Smith, US Chief Technology Officer, joined Jennifer Pahlka to close the morning main stage talks. Megan discussed the energized technology work at the national level and the work being done to bring diversity technology.

And, congratulations to the Tech Award Winners announced today:







We’ll announce more winners tomorrow and Friday.

The main stage tomorrow morning brings another set of talks that’ll make 21st century government irresistible when we hear more about why this work matters.