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Code for America: impact of the inaugural fellowship

For $225,000, the City of Philadelphia got these seven projects and, say participants, lots of exposure to new thinking

Inaugural Code for America Philadelphia fellows with Mayor Michael Nutter in February 2011. Ogle is second from left. (Photo via Code for America)

The inaugural fellowship year of Code for America is over.
The experimental program that offered chosen cities a team of coders for a year to create open source products that make government more efficient, transparent or ideally both will be back in Philadelphia in 2012, making it the only city to participate in the organization’s first two years. The seven fellows dedicated to Philadelphia this year started in January with an orientation in San Francisco and spent the month of February here, before spending the rest of the year building back on the West Coast.
The City of Philadelphia paid $225,000 for the privilege, which covered stipends for the fellows and was supplemented by foundation and private money. Throughout the process, city and CFA officials were insistent on the fact that the benefit far exceeded the total covered by participating cities: CFA Executive Director Jen Pahlka has put the total consulting value at closer to $1.5 million for each city.
CFA fellow and former Azavea developer Aaron Ogle, who says he is returning to his adopted home of Philadelphia from the West Coast following the fellowship, provided Technically Philly an overview of the largest projects his team completed:

It’s worth adding that there is real value in the simple perception that Philadelphia is participating in a largely celebrated national, public-private partnership around innovation and city action.
All told an impressive list to be sure, but it’s important to point out that of these eight larger tangible projects, just the first three directly impacted city services (Change by Us has just launched and so has no track record and the next two were basic, if cool, website redesigns to narrowly-reaching city services), one hasn’t been deployed and the other four are relatively small tools with likely little scale.
The value of CFA is clear, and most of the Philadelphia tech community is likely supportive of taxpayer dollars going to this mind share, but there are certainly much bigger IT hurdles to overcome here.

Companies: Code for America / Devnuts
People: Aaron Ogle / Jennifer Pahlka / Mark Headd / Mjumbe Poe

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