This past May, Code for America, the parent organization of Code for BTV, held a summit for brigade volunteers and civic tech enthusiasts. Topics included the state of its mission, the civic technology movement in the current political climate, and above all, the ways brigades can be working together.
For brigades such as Code for BTV, the summits also provide two key benefits. First, there is a full day of brigade leadership training. Second, there are countless opportunities to meet with other brigade members and leaders from across the US – and around the world – to share ideas and be inspired by each others’ stories.
For all brigades, there really is no better way to reconnect with their roots and mentally replant their flags in the digital community. The last summit was held in November of 2016, and participants were long overdue for a chance to recharge, get motivated, and see the awesome things that other brigades had accomplished in the past year and a half. Seeing so many people willing to volunteer their time, energy, heart and soul, to make this world a better place was a humbling and inspiring sight.
And that’s why we had to share this awesomeness with you, our Code for BTV community. In a world that often seems bleak, scary, or hopeless, we are bursting to share with you some of these truly wonderful stories.
But first we wanted to share some insights with you that we brought home from the summit.
Thanks to Code for America covering the travel and lodging costs, Code for BTV was able to send two people to the Code for America summit: Nick Floersch, one of the captains, and Micah Mutrux, the project delivery leader. Micah shared afterwards that one of the things he found most inspiring was discovering that “some big problems can be solved quickly with small changes.” Just because the need for a solution is great doesn’t mean the solution itself is complicated. Tech often empowers us to make significant changes to processes and applications without needless complexity.
Micah also reflected that, “The technical world has the ability to teach government to ‘fail fast’ and always focus on the users.” The principles of agile methodologies, which have helped so many software companies run smoothly, could in some cases be applied to government services. During the design stages, those using an app or government service should be considered first and foremost. We can teach governments the value of plunging into the first attempt at designing a process or app, and to not fear the problems or issues it reveals. That information merely propels one that much more quickly to the second and more useful design.
Nick came away convinced of the importance of coming together as a community, and that, “We cannot underestimate the importance of staying inspired and passionate about what we do as volunteers.” After the summit, he shared with Code for BTV volunteers that, “To be surrounded by that much ‘like energy’ towards a common goal that really matters … is a whole new experience for many people, including myself. And I suspect for those who have already experienced that sort of energizing moment, it is a place they are happy to return to.” (Well said, Nick.)
This sort of reality check helped galvanize in him an understanding of how many different people have something to contribute to a brigade. “We don’t just need devs,” he said, “We need QA people, project managers, and designers, too. But even more than that, we need connections with government employees inside the system, to let them know we’re here to help them, and to piggyback on their access and understanding of the systems we are trying to improve.”
Both leaders returned home from the summit excited to start new projects with Code for BTV. They were excited to share some of the stories from the summit as well. At the following volunteer meeting they shared a video from a code brigade in California that is tackling streamlining the California food stamp application process.
After watching the video, the other volunteers agreed: the world may sometimes be a scary place, but there are also a lot of beautiful things happening as we all strive towards digital equity.
For a customized playlist of Code for America videos related to the recent 2018 summit, view Micah’s picks here.
To review the schedule from the 2018 summit click here.