With 2020 just around the corner, we’re starting to get excited about our first-ever Code for America Summit on the East Coast! We had a record number of submissions for breakout sessions and lightning talks this year, with nearly 550 proposals from people representing more than 200 organizations.

The Summit 2020 content committee has been combing through submissions for the past several months to curate a Summit experience full of learning opportunities and inspiration to break through some of government’s biggest challenges, and we’re nearly ready to share the full lineup of Summit content. In the meantime, we’re sharing a sneak peek at some of the sessions we’re especially excited about across our four content tracks.

Civic Innovation + Data

Innovation Ready: How Can You Tell if Your Organization is Ready for Change?

Oakland Civic Design Lab & City of Oakland

Change is hard. System and culture change is harder.

In this session, presenters from the City of Oakland will impart a combination of wisdom and tools to assess your organization’s ability to innovate. This discussion will include an honest interrogation of power (who has it, who needs it, and how it can be democratized), buy-in (social and political), accountability, safety and vulnerability.

Participants will learn learn how to:

  • Define “innovation” in your organization
  • Determine if an organization is ready for innovation and change
  • Understand key indicators that reveal the potential success/failure of ‘innovation’ projects

Based on this information, participants should be able to understand how to save your time, energy, and sanity from investing in projects that aren’t ready for your attention.

Ending the Impacts of Drivers License Suspension through Restoration and Reform: A Case Study on Scaling Solutions That Work

What Works Cities

In the U.S. today, 44 states and the District of Columbia carry out policies that suspend driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic, toll, and misdemeanor fines and fees, resulting in over 11 million debt-based driver’s license suspensions nationwide. License suspension can have significant negative repercussions for affected individuals in terms of their ability to access housing, jobs, and other important economic opportunities.

While state level legislative reform is required in order to bring systemic relief and opportunities to those whose lives are affected by license suspensions, cities can take actions that provide more immediate impact for their residents. This lightning talk will tell the story of What Works Cities’ partnership with the City of Durham to provide a guided sprint for a cohort of selected cities interested in learning how to effectively launch a local license restoration effort.

The talk will share What Works Cities’ model for using data and evidence to scale solutions across cities, and inspire other cities to use a blueprint like Durham’s to create similar programming of their own to build capacity to end the damaging effect of license suspensions on their city (and county) residents

Introducing an Equity Assessment Tool for Datasets

Urban Institute

Cities, philanthropies, and community groups want to use data driven policies to close racial equity gaps and increase economic mobility for all. However, many city datasets used to work toward these goals are unrepresentative or biased, and risk exacerbating existing disparities. To tackle this problem, the Urban Institute has built a free Equity Assessment Tool. Users can upload any spatial dataset with latitude/longitude coordinates and the tool will assess demographic and geographic representativeness using reference data—all within seconds. The hope is that this tool can be put to use holding cities accountable for driving progress towards closing racial equity gaps and increasing economic mobility for all. Join this session to learn more about the tool and examples of its use, offer feedback on improvements, and brainstorm future directions.

Design + Delivery

Slowing Down Agile to Government Speed: Bringing the Whole Team Along

U.S. Department of the Interior

Two-week agile sprints are so focused on delivery, they don’t leave much time to collaborate and properly scope features. Additionally, with a lot of team members new to working on digital products, some don’t know what kind of feedback to provide or are afraid to speak up with their insights. We often miss things that should have been taken into account. Inspired by the book Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters by Basecamp’s Ryan Singer, the Office of Natural Resources Revenue is trying to solve these problems by exploring ways to slow down their process into cross-functional phases and allow for more collaboration and teaching moments during both the design and build phases. Attendees will hear a case study and the lessons we learned from it.

Leveraging Off-The-Shelf Software to Reduce Risk and Learn Quickly

Code for America

New policies and initiatives don't always need custom software to get off the ground. In this interactive session, we'll go over how to find and evaluate an off-the-shelf software solution, what features to look for, and how to manage its use. We'll also consider data portability and how to plan for scale. Attendees will leave the session with a clear understanding of how they can best leverage commercial off-the-shelf software for their agencies.

GovResearchOps: Making It Less Painful to Do User Research in Government

Bellese Technologies & User Friendliest

Government teams are increasingly adopting service design—but in order for our services to be responsive to user needs, we need help clearing the way for government-led user research.

Ops people have a role in making this happen. This lightning talk will discuss what it means to “operationalize user research” in government, including everything from tools for researchers, forms for lawyers, and oversight structures for managers and contracting officers. Panelists will share what’s worked—and what hasn’t—as they’ve tried to elevate the status of user research in federal government service design projects. Attendees will leave with a shortlist of ideas that will help them clear bureaucratic hurdles so that they can spend more time responding to the needs of their users than they do the anxieties of their colleagues.

Operations + Management

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First: Burnout and Self-Care in Public Service

Nava PBC & 18F

Many of our nation’s best and brightest feel called to work in civic tech by the opportunity to use their skills to make a positive impact on the world. But the challenges of working with (or within) government are profound, and add a constant and inescapable friction. Furthermore, it can be hard to justify setting boundaries with work when people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. When these realities collide with the passion and drive of many civic technologists, it becomes a recipe for lasting burnout.

Since transformation in government is a marathon, not a sprint, we must learn how to care for ourselves if we want to stay in the game long enough to make real, sustainable change. In this session, public servants and civic technologists who’ve been through burnout and back will candidly explore their experiences, and offer practical advice on how you and your team can prevent (or recover from) burnout

The Tectonic Speed of Government

City of Urbana, IL

Why does government IT change take so long? What can we do to nudge change, and are we on the verge of a shift in the plates that will suddenly alter the landscape?

Government IT procurement and project management are different from other industries, and government processes weren’t designed for today’s pace of technological change. As a City IT Director, Sanford Hess will share lessons from the trenches and perspective for those frustrated with the slow pace of government.

Understanding government IT culture, and the limitations imposed on governments from within, are the first steps. Fighting against these trends is unproductive, but there are ways to work with the system. It can be slow, arduous, and frustrating–but change can happen. You can be part of the solution, nationally or in your own community. Warning: this session provides perspective, insight, and tips… but no magic bullets.

It Is Not a Gov-Nuisance: How IT Governance Can Be Effective and Rewarding

Salt Lake County

Are pockets of innovation springing up all around you, but coordination isn’t happening? Do several agencies need similar technology, yet they all independently procure systems? How do we get folks on the same page to create efficient systems and spend dollars wisely? Come learn how Salt Lake County developed an effective IT governance structure that brings together the voices of technological, operational and policy-level experts to tackle the obstacles we face every day: system, budgetary, and procurement. Salt Lake County will share how their IT Governance Structure has become a model of inclusion and representation and is driving not only efficiency and collaboration, but also innovation.

Tech + Policy

Human-Centered Policy: Re-Writing the Rules for Our Largest Safety Net Programs

Civilla & Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

How can human-centered designers can turn insights into action through policy? Using Michigan as a case study, this session will tell the unlikely story of how a small team of designers in Detroit teamed up with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to streamline some of the most restrictive set of safety net policies in the nation. The case study will end with concrete guidance for designers and policymakers on how to turn research into action by putting people first.

Journey Mapping Access to Justice

City of Kansas City, KS & OpenCities

Panelists will discuss how they've leveraged user-centered design principles and created journey maps to increase access to justice. Building off a partnership with its local law school the City of Kansas City, KS built a digital services pilot to make court services more accessible and user friendly. During the process, the City journey mapped dozens of services, and in the process of doing so confirmed concerns around access to justice issues.

During this session, the panelists will discuss 1) how they've built a strong community partnership leveraging their local tech and policy ecosystem to help do this work 2) how governments can build journey maps to highlight policy, operations and/or simply implement web/content changes 3) how to empower and engage employees at all levels in the process of identifying service gaps and delivering better customer service

Watching the Watchers: How Community Oversight of Surveillance Protects Privacy and Prevents Social Harm

New America’s Open Technology Institute, Free Press Action Fund & ACLU of the District of Columbia

In communities across the country, local law enforcement agencies, as well as other local agencies, have been buying and deploying surveillance technologies in secret. In response, many cities have begun passing legislation to require transparency, meaningful public input, and legislative approval for all government uses of surveillance technology. These efforts are largely based on the ACLU’s model Community Control Over Police Surveillance bill. An effort to pass such a bill in Washington, D.C. is under way.

Panelists will use the Community Oversight of Surveillance-DC coalition as a frame through which to consider how to involve tech and community-based expertise in policymaking. They will pose the key question: How can we can create a process around technology use at the local level that is inclusive of the broad set of folks impacted by these technologies


The full slate of content will be available on the Summit website in January. Remember that ticket prices will increase on February 8th, so don’t delay in grabbing your ticket—click this link for a special 10% discount. See you in D.C.!