As a former political organizer, I’ve always believed in the ability of our community members to make sizable impact when we come together for a day of collective actions with a clear goal. In a campaign setting, a day of action might be focused on registering large numbers of voters, or getting people to the polls. At Code for America, our Network has the unique ability to use days of actions to conduct research and create tools that have immediate impact.
Our Network of Code for America volunteers is unique—we have outsized representation of talented people with experience in coding, designing, organizing, and public policy. These skills allow us to create complex tools and conduct important research effectively in short periods of time. I view it as an absolute privilege to work with a community of individuals who are able to affect their communities so tangibly and positively with their skills. On a day of action, we can engage in tasks that require various skillsets and that have meaningful outputs.
That’s why I’m so excited about our 8th annual National Day of Civic Hacking, where civic leaders, public servants, designers, coders, and engaged citizens will come together to partner with local government and community groups to tackle some of our toughest challenges. Last year, we conducted our first National Day of Civic Hacking around a collective action across Brigades throughout the United States. We took this step toward collective action to address common themes across Brigades around a lack of shared resources and a desire to bring increased unity to the Network.
This year, we’re building on that collective action by plugging the people power of our Brigade Network into Code for America’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic through our social safety net work. Through the work of my colleagues on our social safety net team, we’ve seen exponential spikes in GetCalFresh application volume, we’ve stood up a brand new service to help over a million children access food, and we’ve rapidly scaled GetYourRefund to help low-income people access flexible cash at a critical time.
We’ve also responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in force through the Brigade Network, with members stepping up in our communities to offer their skills in response to the crisis we face. We’ve worked with local partners and created projects to help families find food during the pandemic, helped nurses report needs in their hospitals, and tracked the status of healthcare providers during disaster. When deciding what the collective action would be for this year’s day of action, we felt that it was important for the Network to continue to maximize our impact in response to COVID-19. We’re excited to see how the people power of our Network can bring this work to even more corners of the country, as the need for effective, human-centered safety net services is as great now as it was in the spring.
So what will collective action around strengthening the social safety net look like? Here are a few featured projects that I’m excited about:
- Breakdown: How well does your state’s safety net stack up? Create a design audit of your state’s online benefit applications and processes. SNAP audits will be added to Code for America’s 50 State Assessment which helps government agencies assess the gaps in their online safety net applications. These audits will be useful for both policymakers and advocates in advancing a human-centered safety net in your state.
- Buildup: Redeploy an asset mapping tool for your community to fill the gaps in our safety net.
- Partner: Work with local partners to strengthen the social safety net services in your community. The toolkit provides resources to help you build partnerships.
- Problem solve: Look at problem statements around how COVID affected safety net systems in your community. Brainstorm solutions to help governments better handle the current increases in benefits needs, and prepare for future disasters.
As with many other 2020 “gatherings,” this year will be our first fully virtual National Day of Civic Hacking. While we will miss the in-person connections from our traditional event we are excited about the opportunities to engage collectively on a nationwide level, providing a structure for people to connect with hundreds of others across the country! In addition to the actions listed above, there will be a kickoff conversation to get you inspired and locally-hosted virtual events by Brigades across the country. Most importantly, you’ll have the opportunity to join in for the day by registering online and easily jump into one of the actions we’re taking, even if it’s your first time attending a Brigade Network event. It’s as easy as signing up for Zoom.
Finally, we want to emphasize that anyone can participate in National Day of Civic Hacking—hacking skills are not required! All that is needed is your (virtual) presence and your interest in helping solve some of our country’s toughest challenges to get people the essential services they need and are entitled to.
While we’ve taken on many new projects since March, this year has been clarifying about why we at Code for America and in the Code for America Brigade Network do the work that we do. The pandemic has proven how critically important it is to have community members who dedicate their time and skills to helping their neighbors. We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together on September 12th—and beyond! This work continues day in, day-out, all year round.
Register to join us and to learn more about National Day of Civic Hacking.