We Can Save Us: Reflections from Brigade Congress

Update: Brigade Congress 2018 has been announced. Visit the event page to get your ticket.

Brigade Congress, the first unconference gathering of Code for America Brigades, was full of energy and connection. From October 13 to October 15, 2017, our Code for San José members Angelique De Castro, Lorin Camargo, and Yan-Yin Choy connected with brigade volunteers from across the US and Canada, sharing common issues and strategies, and building new friendships.

Code for San José developer Yan-Yin Choy highlighted the role of engaging users and stakeholders in product development for Renter’s Rights Guide. Source: Code for America.
Carlos Moreno, Captain of Code for Tulsa, gives a lightning talk on CourtBot, an app that texts people to keep them in loop with the court system. Source: Ramy Kim
Ramy Kim, Community Organizer with Open Oakland, presented a lightning talk on Open Oakland’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion efforts to improve recruitment, retention, engagement of non-developers, and outreach through survey, analysis and planning. Photo source: Code for America
Erin Denton, Co-Captain of Code for Orlando, shared the power of Journey Mapping — a way of human-centered design that made the permitting process relatable and simple. Source: Erin Denton

Common themes emerged from the unconference.

How to build sustainable leadership?

Brigades discussed solutions for creating sustainable and robust leadership:

Document processes and operations. Documentation is key for leadership transition.

Define roles, time commitments and terms before recruitment. Be clear about expectations.

Provide opportunities for leadership development. Identify skills gap, host leadership trainings, include the team in fundraising planning and execution.

How to improve gender equity in Brigades?

Photo source: Code for America

Irene Anowa Quarcoo, Cofounder of Civic Tech Toronto, and Emma Burnett, Co-Captain for Code for Maine facilitated this discussion to identify strategies for improving diversity and inclusion in brigades.

Are men talking too much? CHI Hack Night uses this tool to track and share statistics of men and women talking during each of their meetings.

Be proactive about creating safe spaces. CHI Hack Night and Civic Tech Toronto share a code of conduct at each meeting. Be proactive about addressing non-inclusive behavior.

Representation matters. Create a welcoming space by inviting diverse speakers and hosts.

How to attract and include non-coders in brigades?

Brigades want to create gatherings that welcome everyone. With brigade names like Code for San José, and programmers as the majority of attendees, how can we get the message to the community that we want and need people from all backgrounds and disciplines to participate?

Our brigade volunteer Lorin Camargo led two unconference discussions that focused on No-Code Projects.

One participant shared: “The Civic Tech Movement is not a Tech Movement, it is a Civic Movement. If this is redefined, we will open the gate for everyone.”

Lorin shared a success story about a promotional video she made with Code for San José for the City of San José’s Pop-Up Bikeways:

“We can save us,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Executive Director of Code for America as Brigade Congress wrapped up. “Efficiency in government is absolutely a matter of social justice.”
Photo source: Code for America

Are you ready to make government work better?

Join Code for San José at the next biweekly Civic Hack Night on Thursdays at 6:30pm at Bower Institute.

About the Authors

Yan-Yin Choy is a Front End Developer. She builds web applications that empower communities to organize and connect to resources as a Product Development Intern with Caravan Studios. She developed and launched Renter’s Rights Guide with Code for José. Previously, Yan-Yin managed public-private partnerships, engaging government clients and coordinating tech talent to innovate government services. She was formerly Co-Director of New Leaders Council Silicon Valley. To learn more visit https://yanyinchoy.com

Lorin Camargo was born and raised in South San José. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University, where she studied Apparel Design and Merchandising. Following graduation, Lorin lived in Spain, England and New York, where she worked in fashion production, and as a freelance seamstress and sewing instructor. Lorin realized an interest in community building after taking part in a Civic Hackathon which aimed to solve community issues in a low-income neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Now back in San José, she is excited to serve communities in her home City.

Angelique De Castro is a Software Engineer at Cisco where she enjoys making developers’ lives easier with automation. She enjoys hacking for civic good and creating art with code. See more on angeliquedecastro.com