Recently, I wrote about some very progressive things going on right here in Indiana. To expand on that, I was privileged to attend a conference that focuses on making government services better, cheaper and more effective. For civic tech, this is the premier conference and is organized by Code for America.
The Code for America Summit attracted thousands of attendees from both the civic tech and policy worlds. The Summit exhibited many forward thinking approaches to government both nationally and even internationally. Not only were there examples of new IT systems, but also – somewhat surprisingly – highlighted bold new approaches to policy-making too.
The theme of the Summit was well articulated by “bookend” quotes – one at the beginning and one at the end. The Summit started with “Are we just a crowd of voices or are we a crowd of hands?” This highlights a key principle in civic tech which is to not just talk or complain about something; but rather, get involved and DO something.
Through the various talks and breakout sessions, many successful techniques were described. Whether it is “journey mapping” or a roadmap to public engagement, each was described in context of a successful project. Often times, media likes to focus on the spectacular failures. However, the Summit and a recent New York Times article, focused on what works.
The Summit ended with a battle cry, of sorts: Cultivate the Karass. At first, I had no idea what this was supposed to mean. However as it was explained, I realized that it is a serendipitous connection back to Indiana! Karass is adapted from Indianapolis native, Kurt Vonnegut, and is defined in this context as: “A spontaneously forming group joined by unpredictable links – that actually gets stuff done”…a great note to end on.
Civic tech is hard and working with governments is hard. However, it is possible to create innovative solutions to community problems. It does take people that will commit to action…and possibly the most important aspect is that true success requires a diverse and inclusive group representing policy, tech and the community.