Guest blog: Reflections on the Code for America Summit

  1. While the Code for America Summit is primarily a gathering for technologists in the still-niche civic tech space, it was refreshing to see the number of digital service units, both inside and outside government, that brought along non-technical government partners and stakeholders.For example, in a breakout fittingly titled “A Seat at the Table: Connecting Policy and Technology for Better Health Outcomes,” panelists from the civic tech organization Nava included their partner in the discussion, a Regional Chief Medical Officer from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Many non-technologist government employees were in attendance, ranging from the State of Connecticut to the former Secretary of California Health and Human Services. Including government partners in the conversation — not only at conferences, but especially in the day-to-day work of serving citizens — is crucial to ensuring outcomes that work for all.
  2. It was encouraging to see a focus on talent at summit, from an informal “hiring fair” on the first night to workshops and breakout sessions that focused on various stages of the civic tech talent pipeline. While the Code for America team was generous in providing comped tickets and travel assistance to many students, we still feel that these efforts could be amplified — both in the number of young attendees and the programming that is offered. Our team felt that while talent and engagement were often discussed at the conference, the conversations lacked the focus on and perspectives of entry-level talent. Civic tech has traditionally been more for experienced technologists, and a shift in focus would allow for a wider funnel of talent to power the next chapter in civic tech’s growth.
  3. There continues to be incredible potential in the field of civic tech, evidenced by the sheer number of people in attendance who all share a passion for building a 21st century government for all. This community is remarkable in that it is inclusive and collaborative. We witnessed many reunions of old colleagues and friends, but also several exchanges between newcomers who were eager to learn from industry “veterans.” The Code for America Summit continues to provide a space in which we can collaboratively celebrate and critique this community — together.

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Steve Kelman

Steve Kelman

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Harvard Kennedy School professor, does research on improving government performance. also strong amateur interest in China and learning Chinese