I recently received a Code for America fellowship which starts in January of next year (2011). Code for America is a new organization and program aimed at bringing together innovators in technology (specifically web-based) with local governments around the US. It’s that whole Gov 2.0 thing. You can watch Tim O’Reilly and others describe it.
Open Source and Government
I am really excited about this opportunity! I get to be injected in bringing open source and open data into city governments, which is something that I have been interested in for quite some time.
I remember being at NPDev (an awesome conference) a couple years back and talking with a woman who worked (or had worked) in the Brazilian government and she described how they had totally embraced open source software and were making policies around it. She also described other countries in South America that were going down the same road. And I am remember thinking how far off this felt from being done in the United States, and how sad and disappointing that was for me. But in 2 short years, through the work of so many awesome people, open source has found its way into our governments so much more than I could have ever imagined, from local to federal.
Drupal specifically is one of the best examples of how open source has found its way into our government. Whitehouse.gov is such a prominent example, and was reinforced by the keynote given by David Cole in SF. Other examples include NY Senate, Recovery at Commerce, US IT Dashboard, UK Data, and the list goes on.
Drupal and Code for America
Logistically, being a fellow means I will be in San Francisco for the next year working with some awesome, talented people on some really exciting projects. Tentatively (and most likely), I will be on the Seattle project with Chach and Anna, which means I will be in Seattle for February talking directly with the government there.
So, what does this mean for Drupal, or rather, what do I want to do for Drupal because of this? Well, I can’t be certain yet, but there is a very high probably that we will be using Drupal for our project. Chach is a seasoned Drupalista, and I am confident that Anna will love Drupal.
So, first off, I will be in new physical locations where I know there are some great Drupalers in the areas (both the Bay Area and Seattle). I can’t wait to get involved in the local community and come by the monthly meet ups and have some beers and talk Drupal.
Drupal Distribution for Cities
One of the goals of the CfA project is create solutions that other cities can easily use to benefit their citizens. In fact, the Washington DC project is focused on building on Civic Commons a platform to distribute these sort of technologies. Given that we do move forward with Drupal, there is a great chance that we will create a Drupal distribution (aka installation profile) for our solution; this will make it really easy for other cities (or whoever) to have this great application up and running quickly. For those of you not in the know, a Drupal distribution is a set of preconfigured modules, themes, etc. that is a much more functional site out of the box than Drupal core.
Drupal has a vibrant community which produces great supplemental modules, many of which we will use for our solution. But there is a really good chance that we will need to create some new, custom modules for the site that will be abstract enough to be contributed back to the community. These could be modules that integrate with data API’s, visualization modules, or maybe site administration enhancements. Of course it’s hard to say without gathering information first, but I am very excited.
This year at CfA will be really exciting and challenging. It’s also the first year of the program, so there are lots of unknowns, but also more opportunity for myself and the other fellows to shape the program going forward. I am hoping that I can be a positive agent in creating a solid, lasting connection between Code for America and Drupal, much like the amazing involvement that the Drupal community has with Google’s Summer of Code.
You Can Get Involved
Code for America is more than just connecting the fellows. There’s lots of ways you can get involved. Also, you can follow our progress and help out by going to the CfA GitHub space. Or, feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions.
I’ll try to keep everyone updated with all these exciting developments in the next year!