This post originally appeared on DemocracyWorks, a blog written by staff members of the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The posts tell the stories of citizens and organizations working for democracy and making democracy work. They also contribute to an ongoing conversation about transparency, governance, politics, the role of civil society, democracy support & related issues.
This week’s New York Times Magazine features the work of Code for America and the story of technology fellows working with local government in California to simplify and improve the application process for food stamps in the state. This feat was a surprisingly impressive one, which was alluded to by the article’s subtitle: “Why is it so hard to make a website for the government?”
Code for America was founded in 2009 with the simple idea that improving government use of technology can drastically improve the lives of citizens. Silicon Valley has championed “user-centered” design — building technologies and interfaces that are intuitive to use regardless of the complexity of the system. Code for America believes that user-centered design isn’t just how we should design technology, it is how we should design government. Since its creation, Code for America has placed fellows in local governments and engaged groups of volunteers called “brigades” all over the United States to help make government more user friendly.
The Code for America model has proved immensely successful. In 2012, Code for America launched Code for All, an international network of organizations that have replicated the idea all over the world. Starting with four chapters — in the U.S., Germany, Mexico and the Caribbean — the community has spread globally to include Code-for organizations in Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa and regionally in Africa. The network continues to grow.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is proud to announce a partnership with Code for All to support these organizations in sharing their learning and experiences with each other and bringing the Code for All model to additional parts of the globe.
NDI has expressed its mission as “working for democracy and making democracy work,” with a multinational staff in 60 countries working to make that mission a reality. The Code for America and Code for All model aligns perfectly with that goal by engaging citizens in helping governments work better for the people they represent — not just by improving the use of technology, but by creating a culture of innovation in democratic institutions.
This week, NDI’s Chairman Madeleine Albright visited Code for America’s office in San Francisco to discuss the importance of the organization’s work in the civic technology community. Earlier, a one-day planning meeting, facilitated by NDI, for members of the Code for All network was held at the 2016 Code for America Summit from November 1 to 3. Each of the Code for All member organizations were represented at the planning meeting, along with aspiring members from Romania, Canada, and Taiwan.
These events build on a recent memorandum of understanding signed by NDI and each of the Code for All chapters. NDI will be working with Code for All in a secretariat role, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, to onboard new member organizations, ramp up exchanges and sharing among network members, and expand resource mobilization to build and strengthen the network. Code for All will also explore the creation of a category of affiliate organizations which can benefit from the expertise and experiences of the community. This new partnership builds off of past NDI work to help create networks of domestic election monitors, legislators and civil society organizations advocating for the openness of parliaments, and civic innovators in Latin America.
Code for All chapters have already brought to life a wide array of projects that are impacting citizens on a variety of issues. Code for Pakistan has worked with disaster management agencies to redesign their online presence and streamline the provision of relief to disaster-stricken residents. Code for Germany’s local lab in Stuttgart came together to build cheap air quality sensors, distribute them to citizens throughout the city, and is now crowdsourcing air quality data in a city where air pollution has posed a significant public health issue. The Kenyan chapter of Code for Africa launched Dodgy Doctors, a tool to check that your local doctor is a registered physician, which addressed a widespread problem of fake doctors in the country and led to policy changes. Code for Japan built Papa Mama Map, a map of childcare centers and nursery schools in cities around Japan to allow new parents to find a facility that meets their child’s needs. And in Mexico City, Code for Mexico (Laboratorio para la Ciudad, the official innovation unit of the Mexico City government) has developed the first interactive moving map of private minibuses in the city, Mapatón. This is just a small sample of the projects that have been launched.
Governments around the world are faced with the task of successfully delivering for their citizens in the face of rapid technological change. NDI is excited to work with the Code for All chapters around the globe to help democratic institutions meet this challenge.