We Can Save Us: Reflections from Brigade Congress

Nov 17, 2017   |   Lorin Camargo, Yan-Yin Choy, and Angelique De Castro

Brigade Congress, the first unconference gathering of Code for America Brigades, was full of energy and connection. From October 13 to October 15, 2017, our Code for San José members Angelique de Castro, Lorin Camargo, and Yan-Yin Choy connected with brigade volunteers from across the US and Canada, sharing common issues and strategies, and building new friendships.

Code for San José developer Yan-Yin Choy highlighted the role of engaging users and stakeholders in product development for Renter’s Rights Guide. Source: Code for America.

Common themes emerged from the unconference:

How to build sustainable leadership?

Brigades discussed solutions for creating sustainable and robust leadership:

  • Document processes and operations.
    • Documentation is key for leadership transition.
  • Define roles, time commitments and terms before recruitment.
    • Be clear about expectations.
  • Provide opportunities for leadership development.
    • Identify skills gap, host leadership trainings, include the team in fundraising planning and execution.

How to improve gender equity in Brigades?

Irene Anowa Quarcoo, Cofounder of Civic Tech Toronto, and Emma Burnett, Co-Captain for Code for Maine facilitated this discussion to identify strategies for improving diversity and inclusion in brigades.

Are men talking too much? CHI Hack Night uses this tool to track and share statistics of men and women talking during each of their meetings.

Be proactive about creating safe spaces. CHI Hack Night and Civic Tech Toronto share a code of conduct at each meeting. Be proactive about addressing non-inclusive behavior.

Representation matters. Create a welcoming space by inviting diverse speakers and hosts.

How to attract and include non-coders in brigades?

Brigades want to create gatherings that welcome everyone. With brigade names like Code for San José, and programmers as the majority of attendees, how can we get the message to the community that we want and need people from all backgrounds and disciplines to participate?

Our brigade volunteer Lorin Camargo led two unconference discussions that focused on No-Code Projects.

One participant shared: “The Civic Tech Movement is not a Tech Movement, it is a Civic Movement. If this is redefined, we will open the gate for everyone.”

Lorin shared a success story about a promotional video she made with Code for San José for the City of San José’s Pop-Up Bikeways.

“We can save us,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Executive Director of Code for America as Brigade Congress wrapped up. “Efficiency in government is absolutely a matter of social justice.”

Are you ready to make government work better?

Join Code for San José for the biweekly Civic Hack Night at Bower Institute.