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6 Jurisdictions Named as 2016 Code for America Fellows

The civic tech organization returns to five previously-selected cities and one new county to jump-start apps and civic innovation initiatives.

In its fifth year of partnering with local governments, Code for America (CfA) is strengthening ties with previous city and county collaborators, revealing that five of the six jurisdictions named as 2016 fellows are previous partners.

The reason, CfA Fellowship Director Nicole Neditch said on Nov. 17, is to further progress and apply lessons from past experiences. As with previous iterations, three-person teams of technologists will be deployed in a year-long fellowship starting in January. The program offers local governments civic innovation apps and consultation tied to challenges each jurisdiction faces.

The repeat fellowship partners include New York City and Kansas City, Mo., both of which will target health and human services challenges; New Orleans and Long Beach, Calif., which will tackle economic development issues; and the city of Seattle, which joins newcomer Salt Lake County, Utah, in fighting recidivism and high incarceration numbers.

Though the CfA fellows will be making second visits to most of these jurisdictions, Neditch said they likely will be interacting and operating with different administrations, officials and departments. The key advantage of making a repeat visit is that civic innovation practices have already been adopted and embraced. It’s a trait CfA has observed in the city of Philadelphia, Neditch said, when it partnered with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration in 2011 and 2012 to develop a number of civic tech projects.

“It's not exactly the same people we've worked with in the past,” Neditch said. “But it was an intentional move by us. We specifically reached out to cities we've worked with in the past to really understand what it looks like to do things on a multi-year basis.”

For cities like Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia plans to utilize the now proven fellowship program as a support for not only economic development initiatives, but also civic engagement around open data. Long Beach CIO Bryan Sastokas alluded to the fellowship’s return in an October interview with Government Technology, where he said the team’s influence is sought to propel a crowdsourcing effort to identify city data that benefits both local business and citizens. The city used the fellowship in 2015 to create AddressIQ, a technology that tracks 911 super users to reduce costly non-emergency dispatches.

“This year we're pleased to use technology to increase inclusive engagement of our business community and streamline the way businesses interact with the city digitally,” Garcia said in a CfA announcement.  “Working with Code for America will have a lasting impact on not only our community, but will further support the way we work to build 21st century government practices within the walls of city hall.”

Each jurisdiction is slated to pay $440,000 in 2016 to participate in the fellowship. The city is responsible for paying about half, and the remaining funds are raised by way of donations from local and national philanthropy groups such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Though the city's $220,000 out-of-pocket cost is seemingly high, it's not so costly when compared with the fact that most mid-career developers command six figure annual salaries. The fees, according the CfA website, also cover direct expenses for fellowship teams of three — accounting for stipends, benefits, travel and training.

Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America’s founder and executive director, said the vision of the 2016 partnerships is to bolster citizen-centric approaches in government.  In the five years since the fellowship has run, it has generated more than 65 apps and platforms for 38 municipal and county governments. Its teams of fellows now total 126.

“We are thrilled to announce our partnership with these six local governments in 2016,” Pahlka said in the announcement. “Each partner was selected for their commitment to making government services simpler, faster, and more effective for the people who use them."

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.