What is a Code for America Brigade?

A Code for America Brigade is a group of volunteers who meet regularly to collaborate on technology, data, policy and design projects that strengthen their communities. There are over 30 Brigades in the United States. Brigades build participatory power in their cities by holding regular civic hack nights, advocating for open data, and deploying apps.

Local brigades determine their own activities and projects, and the overall Brigade program is administered by Code for America, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization. Code for America has a range of other programs that help governments, entrepreneurs and residents harness technology to solve community problems, including a one-year Fellowship, a civic start-up Accelerator and Incubator and the Peer Network for government workers.

Who can participate in Code for San Jose?

Anyone! We need members with all types of skills. Though most of our projects are technical, there are many roles that do not require programming. Some ways non-technical folks participate include storytelling, community outreach, advising on projects as a subject matter experts, organizing events and writing copy.

Will you teach me how to code?

We are not a teaching organization, but we can definitely connect you with awesome people, resources and projects that can help you on your learning journey. Some of our members are experienced developers who may be able to provide you with suggestions as you figure out what to learn and how to learn it. Our civic hacking projects are also great opportunities to practice and solidify new skills. Many of our members are learning new skills too, so you are also likely to find some study buddies.

If you’re looking for specific learning resources, here are some we recommend:

What is Civic Hacking?

Civic hacking is when citizens see something in the public realm that they can make better, and they take it upon themselves to create a solution.  

A civic hacker can be anyone – technologist, public servant, designer, entrepreneur, engineer – who is willing to collaborate with others to address local challenges and make their cities better for everyone.

In this sense, a hacker is someone who uses a minimum of resources and a maximum of brainpower and ingenuity to create, enhance or fix something. Although in some circumstances the term is used in a negative sense, the term is not inherently negative, nor does it even have to be related to technology.

Here’s a great 2-minute video on Civic Hacking in Pursuit of Democracy from the Sunlight Foundation. For a more in-depth exploration of civic hacking, see this Code for America blog post by Jake Levitas and this video on Civic Hacking 101 from Christopher Whitaker.

What is Open Data?

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone. The U.S. government defines open data as publicly available data structured in a way that enables the data to be fully discoverable and usable by end users.

Governments around the US are opening their data, allowing civic hackers to build tools, apps and other solutions that benefit their communities.

For an in-depth treatment, see the 8 Principles of Open Government Data or refer to the Open Data Handbook published by the Open Knowledge Foundation.

What is Open Government?

Open government promotes greater citizen participation, collaboration, and transparency in government. This includes promoting government accountability via improved citizen access to public government information, decision-making, and representatives.

Many public agencies already abide by open government laws that were developed in the 1970s prior to the Internet. These laws tend to be focused on making sure meetings are held in public and that agencies respond to requests for information. Today, open government increasingly overlaps with the idea that governments should provide citizens with open data on its actions, performance and decisions.

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