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Knope of the Week: Garrett Jacobs, Code for America

Posted on October 10, 2014


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Inspiring. Wake Up Call. Better than a Latte

Not many organizations have done more to bring government into the digital age than Code for America. This week, Garrett Jacobs from Code for America gave us a first-hand look into the work of Code for America.  Code has accomplished a lot but it’s clear that we can aid in their work by reviewing our procurement processes, advocating for more openness in our organization’s data, and making the case to elected officials and leadership for embracing technology.


Background Check

photo (2)Garrett (LinkedIn and Twitter) moved to New Orleans three days before Hurricane Katrina. The move and ensuing activity paved a formative path for his civic engagement. Beginning with the basics of leading design/build community projects Garrett quickly learned the value of community ownership as a pathway to sustainability. Garrett has been applying design thinking to challenges outside of the physical environment since finishing grad school. Before joining Code for America in early 2014 Garrett served as the Outreach Coordinator at Architecture for Humanity where he managed an international network of volunteer architects, the in house intern program and helped the development team reach its quarterly goals for the first time in the organizations 15 year history. He holds a bachelors and masters degree in Architecture from Tulane University.


What We Learned

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PowerPoint: Code for America Presentation

Webinar: Code for America – Digital Front Door

Free source code and instructions for city website dashboards

  • Part of innovation is unlocking the creativity and capabilities of government employees
  • City websites are typically about the city, but they should BE the city.
  • Holy Grail for Coders: Solving the local government procurement process. Government procurement is a huge ship to turn.
  • Code is often brought into organizations by elected officials who “buy in” to the concept.
  • Local government data doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be accessible to drive feedback and engagement.

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  • Innovation allows people to experiment & contribute to a process that enables institutional change.
  • Institutional change requires a safe space for failure.
  • Local government’s challenge: make data public and relevant.

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  • Transparency + Inclusion + Empathy = Trust in local governments.
  • Code “Brigade” program is the creation of a space in which to actively build and address issues.
  • Inaugural Code fellowship program launched projects in Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, DC.

Word on the Street

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Bonnie Svrcek, Deputy City Manager of Lynchburg, VA

Gracious and giving define Garrett in his willingness to share his time and talent with ELGL. Garrett and Code for America Rock!

Brian Southey, Management Analyst, Village of Elk Grove Village, IL

My favorite part of Garrett’s Code for America presentation was hearing him discuss the organization’s goal to fix (or update) the government procurement process.  Many individuals in local government know how cumbersome and frustrating the process has become.  Hearing someone like Mr. Jacobs talk about Code for America and how they are striving to clean-up the process, allows me to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  I would like to thank Garrett and Code for America for their hard work and wish them future success in all their projects.

Janice D’Aloia, Vice President of Momix Solutions

I love the idea of designing for and with people – this resonates so much with how we believe things should be done.

Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, IL

Code for America combines three of my favorite things: technology, innovation and local government. Garrett’s presentation was but an overview – a teaser, if you will – of the vast potential that Code for America holds for the average local government organization. Hats off to him for showing us what can be accomplished – and encouraging us all to get more involved.

Kirsten Wyatt, Assistant City Manager of West Linn, OR

Garrett’s presentation on Code for America was the perfect mid week pick-me-up (better than a double latte). He shared with us the inspiring and interesting work of CfA, and used examples from cities across the country that ELGL members can learn from and aspire to. Many thanks to Garrett and CfA for sharing their time with ELGL.

Ben McCready, Assistant to the City Manager of Rock Island, MI

In reflecting on yesterdays presentation, it is apparent that local government is uniquely positioned to leverage data to aide in making good decisions and improve outcomes. There is no doubt that data is more than metrics or a management tool, open access to data is an opportunity to connect and engage with the communities we serve. Sharing data allows multiple departments and communities to work proactively, cooperating to address our shared challenges and problems.

Beth Otto, City of Tigard, OR

This was a very inspiring presentation! My key takeaway: We are living in the age of data. That means that there is a lot of potential for governments to use all of that data to more efficiently and effectively provide services. Innovation comes from people who are willing to work together and rethink the way things have always been done.

Kent Wyatt, City of Tigard, ORtumblr_mi8s3bWsQc1r98adfo4_250

Code for America is a wake up call for local government. We need to find ways to embrace new technologies, open government, and new ideas. Code for America is paving the way and making our jobs easier. It’s up to us to find ways to incorporate this type of thinking into our organizations. Those organizations that do embrace Code-type project are going to be the ones that people want to work for.

Michael O’Brien, Principal MOB Advocacy

I think Garrett summed up the great work of Code for America in one sentence – “You never know what you could be addressing when solving small problems.”  Code for America helped create this civictech renaissance by bringing entrepreneurs and local government together and seeing the creativity that happens when everyone works together to solve problems. Everyone wins.

Julie Underwood, Assistant City Manager of Daly City, CA

I really loved how Garrett discussed designing content for and with the people. I learned terms like the “digital front door” – how cool!  I was impressed with Garrett’s example of how Oakland was applying this concept. This was an insightful webinar – I look forward to tracking Code for America’s future projects and how they could be used to help my community!

Ben Kittelson, Project Manager at ELGL

Garrett’s presentation was great! It was way cool to learn more about the work that Code for America does and it’s exciting to hear about the cool things that are happening around the country to both use technology in new ways and encourage innovative thinking.


Supplemental Reading

Philadelphia, Portland and Code For America work on building a better RFP

What to Expect from Code for America in 2014

Civic hackers (the good kind) help local governments

Code for America Works to Build Innovation Ecosystem

Should Local Government Be Run Like Silicon Valley?

How Code For America’s Apps Benefit Kansas City

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