Code for Canada & Civic Tech

Luke Simcoe, Communications Lead, Code For Canada

A guest post by Kristina Taylor. Originally published on Code Like A Girl.

On June 5, I attended Code for Canada’s second open house. Join the Code for Canada meetup to get notifications of any future events where you can ask your own questions.

Code for Canada is a new non-profit that was launched spring 2017. Its mission is to bring government innovators and civic technologists together to make life better for Canadians.

Right now, CodeFor.ca is reaching out to communities, tech hubs, and municipalities across the country, looking for applicants to their fellowship program.

As organizations like Code for America and Code for Australia have shown, bridging the gap between government and the tech sector is the fastest way to produce great, user-centred digital public services. Services that help vulnerable residents access healthy food, or connect job seekers with training and employers, or improve access to legal support and other government services.

-Gabe Sawhney, Executive Director, Code for Canada

Similar organizations in other countries have been successfully collaborating with all levels of governement, to change the lives of residents in meaningful and substantial ways.

Code for Canada has 3 primary “buckets” that they categorize their work into: education & training, a fellowship program, and support for community networks.

Education & Training

Code for Canada didn’t go into much detail about its Education & Training initiatives at the open house, because the attendees weren’t the organization’s primary audience for the type of education and training they offer. The Education & Training initiatives take on a few different form, but the Code for Canada website goes into a little more detail.

The Fellowship

Applications for Code for Canada’s inaugural fellowship program are currently open, and will close on June 20. While the first fellowship project is likely to be in Toronto, working with Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, this is just the pilot, and they’re building relationships with all levels of government right across the country. The projects are chosen carefully — they’re looking for government teams that are eager to do things differently, and have projects ready to go that can have a direct impact the lives of residents.

Once a project is selected, Code for Canada will hire a team exhibiting competence in design, development, and product management to work together for 10 months (at a prorated salary equivalent to $75,000/year). For the first month, the team will work with Code for Canada to train and prepare for the project, then it will be transitioned to work onsite with a government team for nine months.

In other countries, the established “Code for…” organizations have had some great success stories. They’ve found that some employers are willing to treat this type of program as a secondment or a sabbatical, with the understanding that the employees who participate will come back with new skills, relationships, and perspectives on working with Government. It’s particularly appealing for companies who sell into government agencies!

Civic Tech Community Network

The Fellowship program is what initially piqued my interest in the open house on Monday, but once the presenters started talking about the projects that civic tech community groups are doing across the country, I got really excited. Not everyone has the ability to make a full-time 10 month commitment to working in Toronto, but local volunteer-run civic tech groups are already making an impact in their cities, and part of Code for Canada’s mission is to enable more of those groups to flourish. A few of these community-based groups existed in a couple of cities before Code for Canada was founded, but Code for Canada is taking responsibility to help build and sustain their momentum.

There’s already been many successful Canadian Civic Tech projects in the last couple of years. In conjunction with the city of Edmonton’s CityLab, Beta City YEG has created and deployed a low-cost open source pedestrian counter, among many other projects. At CivicTech Toronto, teams are working on a project to engage with residents to make the city budget far more accessible, understandable, and engaging. Code for Canada is working with people in London, Montreal, Calgary, and Ottawa to kick-start civic tech groups in those communities. Check out the map!

Notice something missing? I sure did! Where is Waterloo Region? Surely it should be on that map! Waterloo Region is quite clearly a centre of innovation in the private sector. The region has a local tech hive promoting digital literacy, a thriving maker culture (complete with a permanent maker space), and all 3 cities within the region (Kitchener, Cambridge, Waterloo) have published open data catalogs. The City of Kitchener has even announced plans to open a Civic Innovation Lab later this year, in partnership with Communitech, who recently opened a Data Hub in Waterloo, in supplement to several mature and growing hardware and software accelerator centres. So how can Waterloo Region be included in the civic tech movement?

#CivicTechWR

I went into this open house thinking that, if I wanted to get involved, and make a meaningful contribution to building technology that impacts people’s lives, I’d have to drop everything and apply for a 10 month contract in Toronto under the Fellowship program. I learned that I could instead contribute through a Civic Tech group in my local community. Since there isn’t one in my hometown, and it’s a perfect candidate, I’m going to start one. You heard it here, first!

I’m starting a conversation with Code for Canada, and will be reaching out to several individuals & organizations in my network, to gauge interest for a Civic Tech group in Waterloo Region. You could help by offering meeting space, funding for snacks, or just by suggesting and participating in projects once we get going.

If you’d like to help get #CivicTechWR organized, please reach out via social media or leave a comment here, letting me know where I can best reach you. My Twitter handle is connected to my profile here, and you can also find me on LinkedIn. If we’ve connected in the past, feel free to email me instead. The first reply you’ll receive from me will include an invite to join CivicTechWR’s slack team. I look forward to hearing from you!

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