Cultivating the Karass at Code for America

By Erin Hargove, Client Success Consultant

Last week I was lucky enough to spend three days in Oakland, CA at the Code for America Summit.  I thought these three days would consist of talking about java script and the merits of open source technology. Much to my surprise, my main takeaway ended up being a vocabulary lesson.

Karass (noun): A network or group of people that unbeknownst to them, are somehow affiliated or linked.

The theme of the 2015 event was “Cultivate the Karass.”  That is exactly what happened for three days in the heart of downtown Oakland. Over 1200 people from cities and counties, state and federal government, general civic tech and private sector partners, connected, shared thoughts and ideas, and together looked for ways to change government technology to support the people they serve.

There were many resonating themes throughout the conference, but one thing was loud and clear: government needs to not be afraid to take chances in the effort of putting the citizen experience first.  Through the use of technology like open data, text messaging, and cloud applications, we can find ways to bridge the digital divide to provide a more inclusive citizen experience. This thought is what will bring, in the words of the Mayor Oakland, Libby Schaaf, more “techquity” to the community.

Many of the presentations and talks looked for ways to combine the private and public sector ideas  to solve some of today’s most pressing public challenges.  One example of this was a panel between Lyft and public transit officials. This panel talked about how Lyft’s technology could help enhance the transit system, ultimately creating a better system for all income levels.

Will Lightborne, Director of the Department of California Social Services talked about creating a culture of coverage and making services more available through efficient, seamless processes.  Two of the biggest opportunities that he sees in the Social Services is finding way to reduce the paperwork involved in SNAP programs. The other is recruitment of foster families. Looking for ways to better promote the need and simplify the process for those who are eligible.

Similar statements were echoed throughout the conference, there is a real need to simplify and reduce confusion for those in need, from eligibility screenings to understanding budget documents.  When designing technology for government we need to remember that it needs to be designed for mobile first and designed “for the people and by the people.”

Code for America gave me an opportunity to learn how I too can continue to encourage my clients to  “Cultivate the Karass” to use better strategies and technology for improved citizen experiences.

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