How Coding is Affecting Citizenship

Digital tools, as we’ve been learning, are a valuable asset when it comes to studying the humanities. With this in mind, I wondered, what other unexpected areas are similarly touched by technology? As it turns out, there’s a concentrated effort to transform the government – in all its massive, extensive, and inefficient glory – with open-source programs and teams of everyday coders. Code for America, founded in 2009, is a nonprofit organization that seeks to change the government with the use of technology.

This organization focuses on working with local governments. It enlists technologically-apt “fellows” to work in partnership with various local government for a year, in an effort to improve health, economic development, and safety & justice. In addition, they sponsor volunteer brigades, a network of interested government workers, and a few other groups in order to make the government more technologically-minded.

In this TED Talk video, Jennifer Pahlka talks about the vision Code for America has for government and citizenship. She makes it clear that embracing open source technology and creating apps that encourage people to take on more civic responsibilities can have a huge impact on the relationship between government and citizens.

While I was browsing through some of the applications Code for America has created, I found a few great examples of the different ways in which technology can impact us. For instance, take the “Public Art Finder” app, which is currently available in five U.S. cities. It allows users to find and learn about public art using a map interface, thus supporting local art and bringing interested citizens to it. I also looked at Boston’s “DiscoverBPS” app, which offers parents information on the admittance requirements, data, and test scores of area schools they might consider for their children.



What really stood out to me was how open all of these resources are. While I don’t know nearly enough about technology to understand how these apps work and how they can be spread, it is clear that this organization provides anyone looking at these programs with their codebases and instructions (albeit complicated ones) on how to employ them in your area. All of the information is accessible and open, serving as an example of the kind of change that can be made with the use of digital tools.


One Reply to “How Coding is Affecting Citizenship”

  1. It’s no accident that the creator of the CommentPress plugin for WordPress, Eddie Tejeda, went on to become a Code for America fellow. Tejeda also led development for a time at Regulation Room, a Cornell University initiative to create a platform for public commentary on government rules and regulations.

    Tejeda developed CommentPress while at the Institute for the Future of the Book. The present lead developer is Christian Wach, who created the custom programming for The Readers’ Thoreau that makes it possible for multiple groups to comment on Walden.

    Tejeda later created another plugin for paragraph-level commenting,

    He’s now CEO of Civic Insight, which “makes official information about buildings and construction projects available to the public in an easy-to-use interface.”

    He visited SUNY Geneseo in 2013 for THATCamp Western New York.

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