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So, you want to start a Code For?

Words by Grace O'Hara • May 28 2019

All of the questions you wanted to ask, in one place.

As a network that began and has thrived with a small team, we’re pretty happy about the ways we’re able to support our members. One thing that is a constant battle, however, is often having to turn down requests for help from others wanting to start their own Code For program. Instead we point people to all of the different resources available online, and to our community for questions — protecting our most precious resource (time) for those who’re already part of the network.

Getting a first program from nothing to something is a massive lift, so it’s a threshold that signals to Code for All that folks are serious about making change, and have the means and motivation to do it.

While we endeavour to make sure there are resources aplenty, and we share what we’ve learned in our own experiences, it can be daunting for beginners in civic tech to know where to begin.

In an attempt to make that process a little easier, we’ve put together a list of our most frequently asked questions — both things we get asked as Code for All, and also things we ask people who are starting out.

We’d love to know if they’re useful.

A person working on a laptop indoors while sitting at a desk at an office.
Image by Canva

Getting Started

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?

And this is different in every context, even though the general themes are the same. Is there a specific problem with holding leaders to account? Is there trust building to do? Is it about releasing open data? Once you can land on a problem to solve, your vision, goals and pitching should be a lot clearer.

What do you want to see in the next year, five years, or ten years?

Once you have that problem, what’s the role you’re going to play in changing it? You don’t have to sign up for doing everything, in fact, it’s important to acknowledge and connect with the key actors and research that has come before, and exists today. If you can imagine the change you want to see in the short term and long term, it’ll help you choose which program or format is best suited to help you get there.

What are the ingredients you have?

In startup land, this is sometimes called your unfair advantage — the things that you have that work in your favour for making this work. It could be a strong community of talented people, a healthy ecosystem of corporate sponsors, governments who’re open to working with small businesses, or it could be it could be a solid team of a few people who have time energy and resources.

Whatever you have, be aware of it and use it wisely.

What are your money options?

Are you launching this in an area where civic tech funders are focussed on? Or are there corporate sponsors to partner with or governments to work alongside? Knowing what your options are from the start can help inform which project or program to start.

What’s the state of your democracy?

Are there problems with corruption and holding people to account? Is election monitoring problematic? Or is service delivery itself the issue? Code for All members work with governments at all levels and in a variety of ways. Understanding where your government is at in terms of digital capacity, openness and distribution of power and decision making is vital to know.

What are the skills needed?

A tough question, considering most people in civic tech come from very unconventional backgrounds. At Code for Australia, our longest standing Base Team had no technical skills (and were all coincidentally born outside Australia). The usual organisational skills will be needed in whatever you run. Someone to think about strategy, tech, people, partners, dollars and communications might be a good start.

On that topic, what is the minimum manpower needed?

When Krzysztof Madejski started to build the Code for Poland volunteer group network, he was employed half-time (with existing funding through ePaństwo Foundation). Code for Romania started fully as a volunteer effort. Generally, it depends on what you want to do and how fast.

Is it possible to view the financials of a chapter to understand different business models?

Again it depends on what you want to do first. Are you interested in volunteer groups model? There are fellowships, trainings, consultations, products — many different models to be found in the network. Check this out for example.

Most folks will be up for sharing how they do something, if you have a specific question. Keep in mind that many of our member teams are also small and are usually flat out running their programs. Their time is limited — so ask wisely and mindfully.

What are the three main ingredients for a successful chapter? And what is the definition of success?

Again, it depends on which model or program. Impact and sustainability may be very general overall success factors within the network, but head down to the last question for more detail on what that looks like in civic tech.

What are the ways that a project could advance? For example, once a project gains traction, who becomes the owner of it?

That depends on the project, but discussions of sustainability and final ownership should be a part of project preparation. Also target owner (and beneficiaries) should be involved from the beginning — make things with the people, for the people, by the people. If the right people or organisations are not involved from the beginning then transferring ownership will be difficult.

Civic tech solution owners can include governments, civic tech organisations, communities with funding from corporate sponsors or philanthropy, not-for-profit organisations or even may not require funding at all. Sometimes the organization developing a tool is the one to maintain it, sometimes it can spin-off into its own company. It depends entirely on what you’re making.

Several people posing for a group photo outdoors.
A recent exchange with Open UpCode for Japan & Code for Australia — image by Damian Pool from Open Up

Being Part of Code for All

What are the requirements for starting a chapter? Are there any key performance indicators or targets?

Here are the requirements for joining the network. Practically it boils down to getting a nomination from an existing member and having one program or initiative under your belt.

You can and should start an organization without our blessing. We don’t hold IP on the name “Code for…” or for our way of doing things.

What is the hierarchy of Code for All?

It’s quite flat, all members have almost the same rights. We have two members statuses: Governing Members and Affiliate Members. The only difference is that Governing Member (who are generally more mature) votes are binding and Affiliate Member votes are advisory.

You can read more about history and structure here.

What type of support does a chapter in a country get from Code for all?

Have a look at our Code for All — Affiliate Members Overview. We are also currently working on our Theory of Change that will be more specific and structured.

If there is a chapter president, what are the requirements for that person?

We have representatives for each organisation within the network, who are our main points of contact. See what their role and responsibilities are here.

I want to talk about Code for All’s work so far, do you have things I can use?

The best resources we have live on our website or blog. Our recent annual report likely has everything you need to leverage.

Is there a particular framework that Code for All uses to solve problems? For example, human-centred design, lean startup, agile methodologies?

Well, we’re currently working on that — in collaboration with our members and the wider civic tech community. Check it out here.

Have a question that wasn’t covered here? Join us over on the Code for All Slack to ask us anything.

Author picture

Grace O'Hara

Formerly Communications Lead at Code for All, Currently Founder of

Grace is a Jill-Of-All-Trades and the over-communicator at Small Fires. Originally born in New Zealand and now living in Australia, Grace loves to work with organisations that have impact at their core, telling great stories and building communities.

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