We got to be part of the Code for America Summit last week. It was a wonderful, inspiring, and overwhelming experience.
It was overwhelming was because I was tasked to give two presentations: one (embedded above) launching a private government beta of Measured Voice, and an Ignite talk about the moral codes that govern our society. Fortunately, my presentations were over by Tuesday morning, so I had plenty of time to meet and get to know the other summit participants.
A Conference of Doers
One of the highlights of the event was when MC Dave Eaves had all 300 or so attendees stand up and introduce themselves on the first day. It became clear pretty quickly that we were a special group. Every person in the room was working on something important. This wasn’t an event to come and receive instructions from some talking heads – it was a meeting of people dedicated to improving the quality of governance all over the world.
The introductions also highlighted one of the challenges of the Govt 2.0 movement: it’s so hard to define. Every introduction was a reminder that there are countless ways to improve governance and there are countless applications of technology to do it. People were there to talk about new ways of policy making, upgrading democracy, or simply building a better business licensing system.
A Focus on Citizen Experience
Despite this expansiveness, my feeling after the summit is that the entire movement is finding focus around the concept of “citizen experience”. This is a wonderful thing, as improving governance should ultimately improve the quality of people’s lives.
While there are many big things happening in the Govt 2.0 space (fellowship programs, new apps, new standards, new modes of service delivery, etc), most discussions at the Summit were around small things: citizens’ experiences interacting with government. We spent most of our time talking about user stories, writing in plain language, and sharing anecdotes about helping normal people get through their days with a little extra help.
Cyd Harrell, one of our favorite mentors, wrote an excellent piece on citizen experience last year. I was very happy to see Jen Pahlka talk so much about Cyd’s ideas at the Summit. Emer Coleman from the UK’s Government Digital Service also gave an enlightening presentation on their approach to creating great user (read: citizen) experiences.
Millions of Small Things
A lot of our work is informed by a Pete Seeger quote: “Normally, I’m against big things. I think the world’s going to be solved by millions of small things.”
Our belief is that every social media message sent by government is one of these millions of small things. If each one contained a bit more empathy, the world will be a better place. Social media is already a critical way for millions of citizens to interact with their government, and we expect it to become more critical in the future.
Our ambition is to help citizens have a better experience as they interact with their government through social media – one message at a time.
We’re glad to have so many colleagues within the Code for America family to help us do it.