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Code for America’s Next Chapter

originally posted on Medium, written by Lou Moore. Reposted with permission.

Government can work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century. This is the vision that Code for America was founded upon. It’s a vision of every government service being as simple, reliable, and delightful to use as our favorite consumer products.

We’ve spent the last five years demonstrating that this vision is possible. Our Brigades have done it; these 80+ groups of civic-minded technologists across the country have been working hard to help make their communities better places to live. Our Fellows have also done it; they’ve formed 100+ small teams partnering with state and local governments to apply a user-centered, iterative, and data-driven approach to solving problems together.

The next chapter at Code for America builds on this, but with a new focus: delivering services that work for people who need them most.

Impact at scale

Working hand in hand with state and local governments to improve service delivery is nothing new to us, and we’ve always striven to build software that’s a pleasure to use and solves real user needs. But the work we’re doing today is also being done for the long-term, on a scale that we’ve never dreamed of before, and with very specific outcomes as our goal — outcomes that have a dramatic impact on the lives of people who are most vulnerable in our society.

The three outcomes we’re pursuing are food security, reduced incarceration, and employment. We’ve taken the first steps by deploying products that are already helping people in each of these areas. GetCalFresh is the easiest way to apply for food assistance in California today, and it’s the first and only scalable, mobile-first SNAP application in the country. ClientComm is helping case workers communicate more frequently and effectively with their clients on pre-trial, parole, or probation, leading to reduced rates of recidivism. Clear My Record gives people a way to reduce or dismiss their criminal records, which can make all the difference in getting access to good jobs (and housing… and voting).

We’ve helped tens of thousands of people already through these efforts, but we know that we have the potential to help millions.

We have work to do together

Realizing that potential is what this new chapter at Code for America is all about. We’re uniquely positioned to get there — our staff brings together policy experts from the health, criminal justice, and economic development fields, along with a technical team that has long been dedicated to putting the user first and has gained deep expertise in these diverse domains. But our goals are bigger than ever before, and our new focus brings a host of new challenges along with it. We’re growing our team to meet them.

In the immediate term, we have a great deal of work to do to make our current offerings even more effective. We also need to focus on growing their footprint, both by expanding into new states and counties, and by growing awareness and engagement wherever we operate so we can maximize our impact. If you’re a product manager, a UX designer, an application developer, or a growth expert, we have work to do together.

At the same time, we‘re building up the expertise we need to deliver the world-class operational support that our users deserve. If you’re in DevOps, security, data, or customer service, we have work to do together.

As we continue to expand on the government services we help deliver, we expect a platform of technical services to also emerge. We’ll need to be identity-aware across our products in order to begin integrating them, seamlessly helping people gain access to the multiple services they often need. Notifications will play a key role in that experience — imagine applying for SNAP, and then getting a text message notifying you that with just a couple more pieces of information, you could also be enrolled in Medicaid. Systems for predicting eligibility and submitting applications for enrollment across multiple services will also streamline the creation of new experiences aimed at the outcomes we’re after. If you’re a platform or distributed systems engineer, we have work to do together.

You can imagine this platform being exposed to the public via APIs. Pair them with our open source front end code and suddenly the thousands of members of our civic tech community will have a real opportunity to build alongside us and help people across the country faster than we ever could on our own. If you’re a developer evangelist, community manager, API developer, Brigade member, or just someone looking for a way to help in your part of the country, we have work to do together.

This is the new path we’re going down at Code for America. If you’re looking for a way to apply your skills to making a real difference, look no further, we have work to do together.

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