Introducing our new Code for All Coordinator: Kelly Halseth
It’s been a big few months for us. The incredible Krzysztof Madejski stepped off the team, after years of leading the network with empathy, persistence and dedication.
We wondered, how could we find someone to take over leading the network — someone who was already working in the civic tech space, and who had the skills it would take to fearlessly take the reigns of a global network?
The answer came in the form of Kelly Halseth, who until recently worked as the Education & Community Program Manager at Code for Canada where she built and led the civic tech and digital government educational program.
With a Masters in Social Welfare, a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a decade of professional experience in some of the most multicultural cities in the world, her career is anchored in working with not-for-profits, the public sector and civic tech communities to develop relationships, create opportunities for collaboration, and empower others to use their expertise to develop high impact solutions to complex civic challenges.
Here’s a wee chat we had recently about the journey that led her to Code for All and why we’re thrilled to have her join the team!
How did you find yourself at Code for Canada and, I guess, working in civic tech more broadly?
My educational background is in sociology and social work — specifically macro social work. Basically that means I focussed on non-profit management, community development and policy development for social policy.
Through that I did a lot of direct service delivery — working with people experiencing poverty and homelessness and as a social worker — both in the non-profit and government space. Those experiences really inspired me and showed me how the development of policy and services has such power to really hurt or help the most marginalised populations.
And often, the people who are meant to be served by these policies and services are not served well.
On the government front, I’d worked for two municipalities — City of Long Beach and the City of Toronto — both times writing social policy and also creating and redesigning social services. My mentors, colleagues and I guess “higher ups” were using techniques like human centred design and agile, which weren’t really used in government at that point. It was through personal research on these concepts that I fell upon civic tech.
It might not be a shock that after working in government for a while, I was wanting to not work in government for a while. And there was this fortuitous moment where Code for Canada were hiring and I thought my experience in both direct service delivery and policy, and service design all kind of merged perfectly into that role — which was essentially helping public servants learn about civic tech processes.
I feel like of all the stories I’ve heard of how people ended up in civic tech, yours makes the most sense! So I guess the next question is why Code for All, and why now?
I’ll start with the why Code for All part. I was lucky enough to, one, get my job at Code for Canada and have the experience and exposure to the civic tech community in Canada, but also, two, have the opportunity to be involved with Code for All and the summit in Romania last year.
To be honest, before that I had very little involvement with Code for All — I was still grappling with figuring out how to do my job at Code for Canada. But being involved in that process of co-developing and co-designing the summit, and experiencing how Krzysztof went through that process was really inspiring.
Seeing how he really cared about the community was so moving — I felt like part of the community before I had really met anyone in the network.
Also, being in Romania with so many people across the world who are doing very similar work that I was doing, who have a shared passion for doing good for the world and their community — I was just very kind of awestruck by it. I think, it also put a spark under my ass in wanting to do my work better too!
On the ‘why now’ part — returning from the summit, I had been wanting to be more involved in this global community and, in my personal life, I was planning a move to Europe with my partner. So again, it coincided with this life decision to make a big change in my life when I saw, sadly, that Krzysztof was leaving and a role was opening.
It’s a really exciting and interesting opportunity for me to be involved with this amazing community, and take the experiences I’ve had in non-profits, in government, and in civic tech and bring it all to Code for All.
Okay, a moment to brag now. What’s your superpower?
Okay, well a slightly more serious one would be that, given I’ve always been interested in social work and sociology, I’d say I’m super empathetic. I’m very in tune to the feelings of other people around me, which can be positive and awesome at times, and also not at others. It’s a double edge sword, in that I’m still trying to figure out how to use and lean into that super power.
Number two is a little bit more silly — if I listen to a song once or twice, I can almost recite it back to you. I can probably repeat back the lyrics and melodies! When I was very young, I was horrible with multiplication so my grandmother bought me these tapes which had songs to help you memorise them. I’m pretty sure she conditioned me to be able to do this somehow!
That really is a special skill! Another personal one, what do you do in your spare time?
Well I’m a potter, so I make pottery and have a little side business selling it at markets. I mostly like making mugs and cat shaped things. I also love cuddling with my cats — Syd and Dalia. They’re pretty cool.
Mostly at the moment, I’m enjoying learning languages. Specifically French and German with extra emphasis on the German because of our upcoming move to Berlin! I’m also super terrible right now and not doing it as much as I should, but I’m attempting to learn Bass Guitar too. I love music!
What are you most excited about at Code for All?
Oh, that’s such a hard one, especially a few months in! I think civic tech is in a really interesting spot right now. I think it’s starting to take up more space in people’s consciousness in terms of people learning about it uses and how it can support their own problem areas and community.
The network is stronger than it’s ever been before and more people are joining, so that continuous growth is really exciting.
I also think what’s really interesting is the intersection of civic tech with other, more traditional actors like non-profits and governments. I’m curious to see how our work can meet in the middle together and make everything better. All of our different expertise and understanding of communities around the world is incredibly powerful. Now that some of tech we’re using and the network is more established, it’s truly becoming a movement. I’m excited for it to permeate other communities and start being collaborative outside it’s own bubble.
I’m equally excited to see the impact it has on real life communities — particularly how it’s creating positive change for marginalised and vulnerable communities. And I think we’ll get there in collaboration with not-for-profits and governments.
That’s it! Unless there was anything you wanted to add, that I haven’t asked already?
Just that I’m very excited to be here and to be in this position. I’m looking forward to better understanding civic tech on a world scale, and also getting to know everyone!
To chat more with either Grace or Kelly, head over to the Code for All Slack and ping us (@grace or @kelly she) or respond to this in the comments below!