There's a new social innovation initiative that just launched called Code for America. It's a big deal; it was founded to help American cities innovate around paralyzing budget cuts, old technology and rising taxes.
Starting this month, Code for America is recruiting the brightest minds of the Web 2.0 generation to transform city governments -- to re-wire them for transparency, citizen participation and action. "Our cities are in major crisis," says Founder Jen Pahlka, yet this is a time of major opportunity for social innovation in cities across the country. Some 60 percent of municipal employees, she says, are set to retire over the next five years. "What if, instead of cutting services or raising taxes, cities could leverage the power of the Web to become more efficient, transparent, and participatory?"
Pahlka says her project aims to do for city governments what Teach for America has been doing for America's public schools -- creating a body of knowledge and context for how institutions need to rebuild themselves for the Digital Age. The initiative also represents a big step for the accountability-in-government movement; freeing up more of the information stored in city databases for public use "will catalyze new forms of problem-solving and service," Pahlka says, "and there is a huge community of talented technologists and designers who want to help."
Pahlka and her team have chosen five cities for Code for America projects -- Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Boulder, and Seattle. Pahlka is now recruiting people to work on those projects. Five fellows will be chosen per city; each five-person team will attend a short training program in the San Francisco Bay area and then travel to their various host cities to learn about each cities' unique challenges. The fellows then will return to the Bay area to build solutions; top social innovators in government and technology will be brought in to support the fellows in their work "and help them create this new ecosystem of open cities across America," Pahlka says. "We're looking at each of these cities as a new tech start-up." The year-long program will provide each fellow with a $35,000 stipend and cover all travel costs.
Interested? The application deadline is August 15.
(Illustration by Giovanni Merino for istock.com)