Code for All Summit: Lessons from Diverse Communities

At the Code for All Summit, Catherine Bracy (Code for America) moderated a panel with Ivonne Jansen-Dings (Code for the Netherlands), Julia Kloiber (Code for Germany), Daniel Tello (Laboratorio para la Ciudad), Hal Seki (Code for Japan) about developing diverse communities. Code for All has partners working in over a dozen countries around the world, each of which has unique problems and needs. The session talked about how the basic Code-for model has been adopted in different political and cultural settings and addressed questions like: Which parts of the basic Code-for model (particularly the Fellowship and Brigade) translate well across political and cultural contexts? What innovations are different Code for All partners making on the original model? Which of those innovations shows promise to scale to other countries? What programming gaps have we identified that need to be filled, and how might we fill them?

Catherine Bracy introduced the panel by asking each panelist how they develop diverse communities. One of the observations in a previous panel was that you can’t just transplant what worked in Code for America and expect it to work in every country. One of the first questions Code for America had to answer when developing the Code for All program was determining how much of what Code for America was doing is universal and what would need to be adjusted to each country. (Something that we’re still learning.)

When looking at the question of how to build diverse communities, each of the Code for All partners has approached it a little different way. The first question at the panel was asking how each group approached it.

Code for Japan

For the Code for Namie fellowship project, the fellowship didn’t actually take place in a physical space. (Namie had been evacuated as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Their fellowship project was aimed at keeping the community together virtually. To do this, they created software for tablets to help connect people to their community.)

Hal Seki, representative of Code for Japan, talked about their corporate fellowship program. Code for Japan currently has two programs. Their Brigade program is growing, but it’s the Brigade program is completely volunteer driven. The corporate fellowship program is currently Japan’s only fellowship city and was formed in part to the nuclear disaster there. Rather then simply demo application, the fellows there worked with city officials to to engage the public around the issue hosting workshops and public meetings. The app itself was developed by Code for Japan’s corporate partner with the fellows providing guidance based on what they were seeing on the ground.

It’s easy to start a corporate fellowship because the government doesn’t need to pay money. We charge through the company for the development. The fellowship then becomes part of the training program for the company. It’s a good way to involve companies help in their sustainability.

The idea for the corporate fellowship first came about after conversations between Code for Japan and SAP Japan. The company asked what they could do to help the civic tech movement in Japan and the idea of a fellowship was born.

Code for Germany

Code for Germany (and their project lead Julia Kloiber, ) was one of the founder members of Code for All and had a big challenge in getting government buy-in for Code for Germany – even to the point of delaying their fellowship program initially. Instead, they focused on developing their own Brigade program (which they call Labs in Germany.) Currently, there are 20 labs spread out all across Germany. About five of these Labs are focused on citizen science projects in partnership with the Ministry of Research and Education which is supporting them with funding.

Code for Germany is a project of the OpenKnowledge Foundation in Germany. For the last five years, the team has been working on open data, transparency, hackathons, and a civic tech incubator to help carry over ideas generated at hackathons.

Initially, they wanted to set up a Fellowship program. However, the procurement rules made that very difficult to do at first and so they focused with their Lab program instead. The next thing that the team is working on is creating their own version of the Knight Prototype fund to give funding to Brigade projects in order to make them sustainable.

Kloiber stresses that it’s not the apps they develop that are the most valuable, but the Code for Germany network. The labs are becoming the go-to partners for governments looking to take advantage of civic technology. This is a great example of how small wins can build into bigger ones.

Daniel Tello (Laboratorio para la Ciudad)

Next on the panel was Daniel Tello from the  Laboratorio para la Ciudad based in the biggest city in the western hemisphere – Mexico City. The team is made up of 23 people housed in the mayor’s office. The team is also on the verge of launching their second fellowship.

Tello says that if you put the lab in context with the civic tech movement in Mexico City, the Lab has helped grow the civic tech movement in Mexico City very quickly with young people identifying more with the city. The experience of the first fellowship has also helped identify where the weaknesses in implementing projects within city government.

For example, in the first round of the fellowship they helped develop an app to help people register their cars built in partnership with the Secretary of the Environment’s office.  However, the Secretary’s office wasn’t able to use the app because it wasn’t part of their agenda and they didn’t have the staff to maintain the app. The team is currently working with the Secretary’s office to re-think the app in terms of sustainability and to train government staff on how to maintain the app. The government workers now see the fellows as co-workers instead of people trying to pull something in. The lesson is that if you don’t start the project working with the government partner, then you’ll have issues with implementation later on.

The other big lesson is to find the champions within government who can work with you on implementing change.  They can also give the fellows the knowledge of how government works and the problem set you’re working on.

One of the big successes has been that the Mayor of Mexico City has pledged to implement the apps created at Laboratorio para la Ciudad‘s last hackathon (in public and on camera!) This does give the fellows support when going to secretaries to say “Hey, the Mayor says that he supports these efforts.”

Laboratorio para la Ciudad took the approach that it’s important to start with new agencies versus going to the same ones because it’s important to spread the civic tech movement to as many places as possible.

Ivonne Jansen-Dings (Code for the Netherlands)

Code for the Netherlands is a project of Code for Europe which was a pre-cursor organization to Code for All – inspiring Code for America to launch an international program. Ivonne Jansen-Dings talked about how they went from focusing more on the continent to focusing more at the local level.

Code for Europe started with getting Code for Europe getting funded, but there were six of seven cities getting involved. The fellowship model didn’t quite fit because there wasn’t the organizational structure in place to sustain it.

While the intention was always to shift focus to the national level at some point, the Code for Europe umbrella did provide a platform to share learning experiences as well as give the fellows a more international perspective. While the fellowships have switched to a national perspective, they’ve kept that aspect of Code for Europe in place. They have also been using the Code for Europe brand to get joint funding and to share knowledge since it’s relatively easy to travel across Europe.

While it hasn’t been successful for every country, they did make it successful in the Netherlands once they connected it with the Waag Society. Their fellows make a normal salary – but allow the fellows to work only four days a week which allows the fellows to supplement their income by doing freelance work. (Normally, developers can command much higher salaries than the average income.) This effort is being funded by the government. For us, the funding is essential to running the program. The Code for Europe effort was great as an example of what’s possible and helped get support for national efforts.

You can find out more about Code for All on their website at

You can watch the full panel here.