SAN FRANCISCO -- Hundreds gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Code for America summit held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Lam Theater to address innovation in civic engagement and the challenges that still remain for governments. Code for America, a nonprofit that pairs technically-skilled fellows with cities to develop civic innovation projects, also announced its 2014 partner cities at the event.
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WORK ON STUFF THAT MATTERS -- During opening remarks, Code for America’s Co-Executive Directors Bob Sofman and Abhi Nemani addressed some of the bigger challenges state and local governments face. According to Sofman, governments often cling to policies and procedures that no longer work. In order to work on what matters in government, cities, counties and other public-sector entities must rethink innovation.
The Code for America fellowship program has served as a jumping off point to help partner cities create new ideas and incubate civic innovation.
RETHINKING CRITICISM -- Author of Cognitive Surplus Clay Shirky addressed how to handle criticism, particularly criticism of government projects. Shirky made a distinction between constructive critics, who may provide valuable input, and “corrosive critics” – those who address the person trying to solve the problem, not the problem itself.
BOSTON: TWO YEARS LATER -- In 2011, Boston was chosen as one of the first Code for America partner cities. During that year, fellows helped the city develop Discover BPS, a platform to help parents and students more easily determine what local public school to attend. Because schools vary in applicant demand, having an online resource to better understand available options has helped the Boston community.
Since the fellowship two years ago and the launch of Discover BPS in November 2011, the platform has continued to serve Boston residents.
SAN FRANCISCO TEXTS FOR CHANGE -- As a 2013 Code for America partner, San Francisco addressed the issue of eligible residents applying for CalFresh benefits (food stamps). Residents who were disenrolled when benefits expired often had to reapply each time they went back on the service.
The city’s Human Services Agency -- with the help of Code for America -- launched an opt-in program called Promptly for residents on food stamps to receive a text message when their CalFresh benefits are about to expire. The new program helped individuals receive updates on their food stamp account in what the agency considers an innovative way.
This November, every individual who applies for food stamps in San Francisco will be able to opt into the new text-based program.
LOUISVILLE, KY., MAYOR TALKS INTERNAL/EXTERNAL INNNOVATION -- According to Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer, innovation in government occurs both internally and externally. Internally, innovation and improvements can take place by opening up data, and finding creative ways to make that data available.
To follow this mindset, Louisville joined San Francisco in providing restaurant inspection data on Yelp so citizens can see how local restaurants stack up, both in reviews and with official inspections.
But improving government from the inside is not enough. Fischer said innovating externally means making change to directly impact the community. But the size of the city doesn’t influence its ability to do so -- big or small, Fischer believes you can innovate anywhere.