State of the Brigade

Code for Greensboro is now close to a year and a half old. The time has gone by in whirlwind fashion, and in the past several months we've seen a lot of rapid change in our organization. I want to take this opportunity to provide some perspective on Code for Greensboro's past successes and challenges, where we are now, and the course we're charting for the future.

Beginnings.

Early on, Code for Greensboro experienced an incredible response from our city government and other organizations in the community. Greensboro's CIO, Jane Nickles, immediately engaged with us by providing an Open Data Portal that allowed our brigade to pull city data into applications in real-time. Other community organizers and groups joined the conversation by coming to our meetups and pitching app ideas.

We were holding regular hacknights and our focus, as with any Code for America brigade, was primarily on civic hacking. We had great turnout and a core group of regulars who often proposed and discussed project ideas. While we tinkered with these projects, and occasionally committed code to our GitHub page, we struggled as a group to organize and sustain the ongoing involvement necessary to produce and deploy applications that impacted our community.

Soon after our inception, we added large event planning to our wheelhouse. In June 2015, we held a local hackathon at Co//ab in downtown Greensboro as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking.

That event was followed by Civicon 2015, which was billed as a two day hackathon and mini-conference held at HQ Greensboro, and The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.

The weekend saw the beta unveiling of the City of Greensboro's Open Data Portal, twenty speakers give talks on various subjects, nine teams compete in the hackathon, and a community dialogue around the need for more local civic and tech-based education. Both events received positive reception from the community, and a fair amount of code and projects were turned out by participants. We rode high off of these successes to the end of 2015.

Pretty soon, however, we realized that attendance at meetings was starting to dwindle, and progress on projects that we'd been able to inch forward in past months were coming to a standstill. For all the initial enthusiasm our events brought, the day-to-day existence of our brigade was beginning to languish.

After internalizing everything that had transpired during Code for Greensboro's first year, we began to take a hard look at our successes, our failures, and what our community had been asking from us. This process begged the question How do we measure success?

Many metrics came to mind such as number of members, event attendance, project quality and effectiveness, among many other things. None of these measurements felt right and as we discussed in greater detail what our success should look like, it became clear we had to shift our focus.

Now.

Through this reflective process, we've identified three primary changes to our brigade that will make us more effective and be of greater benefit to Greensboro and Guilford County moving into 2017.

Change #1: 501(c)(3)

We're incorporating. When looking ahead, and asking what we hope for the brigade in the long term, the leader team felt that the spirit of what has been accomplished by Code for Greensboro should exist beyond any of our individual abilities to contribute. In our initial incarnation, much of the organization and responsibilities of the leader team were determined in an ad-hoc manner and on an "as-needed" basis. As personal schedules and responsibilities changed, it became difficult to manage the complexity and evolving tasks required of a growing organization.

Our hope is that, by formalizing our structure and becoming a self-contained1 non-profit we will be able to provide an enduring foundation and platform for Code for Greensboro to benefit and provide value to the local area for years to come. While we have a lot of work to do before we realize this goal, we have assembled an expanded leadership team that is focused and currently in the process of drafting bylaws, mission statements, and all the other required components to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Change #2: Tech Education

Early on we saw that a large percentage of our hacknight attendees were either in the early phases of learning to write code, or had a desire to learn and no venue in the local area to do so. After stepping back and reflecting on this, it became clear that there was a great need for tech education in our community. As a result, we're making tech education a key facet of our brigade's mission, and have brought on an Education Director to facilitate curriculum development, teach courses, and train brigade members on how to become instructors for future classes.

Through this process we plan to flesh out our catalog of course offerings, and be flexible based on community demand. Our hope is that, over time, these course offerings will contribute to building out our local pool of civic hackers, and create a more robust tech flavor to our Greensboro community. Our first class begins on July 9th and is a Data 101 course that will teach students how to use the Postgres database management system to import, clean, and query datasets.

Change #3: Effect Change & Build Our Civic Hacking Community

Code for Greensboro will always have civic hacking in its DNA. Our desire to organize a community of civic minded technologists to better our city will be etched into our founding documents. By intentionally focusing our existing volunteer tech resources on specific projects we won't end up spreading ourselves too thin and can help impact our community in a more intentional and measurable way.

We will also be developing our tech education curriculum to use civic data and civic based projects in the course material. Students will be working with the same tools and data that our Code for Greensboro projects are based on. This in turn, will generate a larger pool of local civic tech talent that Code for Greensboro can draw from to commit code to projects, and impact the community in a positive way.

Looking Forward.

After taking a breath, and an intentional look at where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go, we have set some lofty goals for Code for Greensboro. We have identified the next steps for the organization, and are vigorously moving into the next phase of our growth and a bright future.

If any of this speaks to you, I encourage you to reach out to us. We need people from all walks of life to participate. While we need developers, designers, user experience and user interface skills, and project managers. We also need urban planners, software testers, photographers, event planners, bloggers, and anyone else who wants to be a part of this movement and help make better use of technology in our community.

Regardless of your level of tech skills, get involved with Code for Greensboro, and help us impact our community in positive ways!

  1. We'll be retaining our affiliation with Code for America after our nonprofit incorporation. By moving to this structure, we're merely taking greater control of our finances and codifying organizational roles and procedures that allow us to scale effectively.