Photo: One group of Code for Pakistan’s Fellows

Benefits of Replicating Fellowship Models and Collaboration Across Continents

Digital technology has advanced ten-fold in the last decade compared to the last century. This rapid advancement has compelled students, professionals, and even retired people to learn how to navigate these new digital worlds. Yet, while technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, governments worldwide are a step behind in adapting to new technology. Call it a matter of less manpower or more pressing concerns like the economy, GDP, poverty alleviation or less tech-savvy politicians, governments around the world are needing to be pushed to adopt new technology.

The concept of e-governance and digitalization of systems has moved the odds in favor of adaptation of technology. However, the real impact of technology lies in its ability to provide relief to every citizen. Civic innovation is and should be the ultimate goals of governments all over the world. Code for All is one such organization that is trying to bridge the gap by preparing interested citizens of partner countries to take part in civic innovation.

The development of a Fellowship program has enabled Code for All partners around the world to make use of the technical talent, willing to donate their time for digital social innovation. Working since the turn of this decade, the Fellowship program has trained and facilitated Fellows in collaborating with their Governments, understand user needs, bridge the gaps of the digital divide and launch open source digital platforms for the betterment of the societies. The Fellowship model is a way of making change that was started by Code for America and has been successfully replicated by at least three other Code for All partners: Pakistan, Canada and Australia.

Photo: Code for Australia Fellows

Citizens needs are the root of the ideas generated and implemented by Fellows. Since the selected Fellows are citizens of the community they intend to serve, the problem statement is better comprehended by them. While the basic needs may be the same in each partner country, the problem solution and design are disparate in each country. The Fellowship structure might be different in partner countries but problems faced by Fellows can overlap and technology converges them all to a single point.

In this article, we will focus on the Code for America and Code for Pakistan to see how they are working in their respective silos and what they can learn from each other.

Code for America (CFA) — Fellowship Structure: Outputs and Lessons Learned

Code for America is the pioneer of Fellowship programs later adopted by the Pakistan, Canada, and Australia — three Code for All partners. The Fellowship program enables technology enthusiasts to take part in helping their respective governments provide understanding and ease of use of the legal system, healthcare, housing, transportation and basic services to the citizens. In their own words:

“Government can work for the people, by the people, in the digital age.”

Started in 2011, each year the Fellowship program takes on multi-talented individuals and:

  • helps them liaison with the government to understand the legal processes and the problems and hindrances in delivering the right solution to the common man at the right time
  • empower Fellows to conduct user research to “rethink and reshape the process” and convert it to an acceptable digital process
  • provides mentorship to the Fellows to deliver solution addressing a multitude of citizen needs
  • provides them with adequate funds to pay the expenses incurred during the Fellowship period
  • helps implement and replicate the ideas within brigades (spread across states)
  • publishes the code and solution on Open Source Repository, GitHub so that it can be reused by Governments and other technologists of the partner countries of Code for All.
  • helps the work to develop iteratively over the course of time with MVP (minimum viable product) available immediately for use.

The success of the Fellowship structure has yielded rewards in the form of projects that have become change makers for the system; few of those are given below:

  • Tom Doner, a 2017 Code for America Fellow, created an easier system of interaction for victims of crime with the law enforcement agencies in a respectable way in Multnomah County (Portland, OR).
  • Rachel Edelman, a 2016 Fellow, created a system for improving access to childhood immunization for Kansas City, Missouri Health Department.
  • Jazmyn Latimer, a 2015 Fellow, worked on Criminal Justice System, improving it using user-centered design techniques and technology.
  • Kavi Harshawat, a 2014 Fellow, worked on improvement civic engagement by working on better user experiences at the Government level through his project GoodCTZN.
  • Andrew Hyder, a 2013 Fellow, helped small business owners to hop on to digital world by developing BizFriend.ly.

The Fellowship program is run by the Code for America Brigade network, which is an alliance formed at a national level, containing volunteers, developers and designers. Each brigade is located within the community it’s based, at both city or state level. The Fellows are selected from among the Brigade so they have a fair idea of how Code for America works.

These are some of the examples of the benefits reaped from the Fellowship model. To learn more about the Fellowship model, please read here.

Photo: Code for America’s 2015 Fellows

Code for Pakistan (CFP) — Fellowship Structure: Outputs and Lessons Learned

The Fellowship principles for Code for Pakistan has been adopted from Code for America Fellowship Model. In their own words the Fellowship model works as:

“6-month mentored Fellowships enabling coders, designers, community organizers to work alongside domain experts in governments and NGOs to build and deploy apps.”

The program started in 2014, three years after the inception of Fellowship program by Code for America. It has successfully funded Fellowships of fifty plus technologists by providing them with:

  • a platform to liaison with the government and citizens to model efficient governmental processes
  • funds for undertaking the projects to bring about a change
  • mentorship at government level and Code for Pakistan level to help the Fellows with their ideas
  • publish the projects at the open source repository GitHub

Some of the projects implemented under the Fellowship grants are as follows:

  • Traffic Management Application which is an android application for Traffic Wardens/Police to report and navigate accidents using Google Map and to issue new Driving Licenses to eligible citizens.
  • For the past few years, Pakistan has been affected adversely by the Global Climatic Changes so floods have been a common problem especially in the North of Pakistan. A web application has been built through the Fellowship endowment by Code for Pakistan for instant provisioning of funds to the people affected by flood.
  • Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar (WSSP) , another feather in the cap of Code for Pakistan, android based crowdsourced complaint system enables the public to report hygiene and sanitation related issues to the government for quick and effective fixing.

During the research for the article, two Fellows gave their feedback about the Fellowship model.

Bushra Mustafa is a Fellow of 2017 cohort, working on a Crowdsourcing Platform that will bridge the gap between investors and startups emerging from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK). She stated that the Fellowship process is very adequate and she enjoyed a stress-free interview answering questions relevant to her field. She loves that the Fellowship process allows equal opportunity and females can safely apply and hope to be selected as well. She says that she hopes that the endowment provided to Fellows be increased, especially as a Fellow residing in another city has to take care of the lodgings and meals for the 6-month long cohort.

Nazim ud Din is a Fellow of 2017 cohort, working on Digitization of records of Directorate of Firms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK) in which 35,000 files are going to be digitized using this software; making record saving and searching more easy and efficient. Nazim is a technology enthusiast and loved the Fellowship process although he says that the time of application process till selection process needs to be reduced. He also talks about increasing the funds allocated to Fellows stating that for junior level professionals, the endowment is fine but for senior resources based on their experience, it needs to be increased.

Currently, the Fellows have to relocate to bigger cities within a province to work hand-to-hand with the Government and Code for Pakistan. A better idea would be to take a leaf out of Code for America’s book and increase the Pakistan offices to multiple cities to help their local bodies instead of just at Provincial/State level.

Also, if funding is increased by donors (in this case World Bank, Code for Pakistan and Information Technology Board of the province), senior technologist would join the program and more Fellows can be taken on board.

Anam Zakariya (anam@codeforpakistan.org), who heads the Fellowship Program, mentioned that a dedicated team needs to be put in place to handle the queries after the applications/solutions of Fellows are handed over to Government offices after six-month cycle. This way an Operational Maintenance cycle can be run once the project has been successfully completed.

Benefits of Replicating Fellowship Models

By observing and learning about the two Fellowship programs running in America and Pakistan, it can be safely said that the underlying principles of the Fellowship model can be replicated by other partners. The differentiating patterns should be accessed based on the laws, the constitution, the consumer behaviors, the ethnicity and cultural traditions of the partner country.

However, the advantage of technology is that it is seldom geographically bound so focus should be made toward more and more collaborations between Fellows belonging to partner countries to share lessons learned and to discuss problems faced by them. Just like a GitHub code repository exists, a lesson learned repository for Fellowship structures, regulations and processes should be maintained and shared across networks so that it can easily be replicated across the board.