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Coders for America Arrive in Seattle

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, February 3 2011

Seattle's Code for America team has arrived in the city, and quickly found out that they're not the only game in town when it comes to civic technology, Anna Bloom writes over on the nonprofit's blog:

While [Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn] spoke with me he periodically checked his iPad and iPhone — more evidence of what I had been learning all day at the open house: Seattle is a city that embraces technology. A number of innovative web-based projects are well underway at the city including Seattle’s Police Department’s Get Your Car Back, a Twitter feed aimed at locating stolen vehicles late last year, and MySeattle, an application which allows Seattle residents to create their own city services home page.

Code for America, the nonprofit venture to bring teams of technologists to cities throughout the country and set them to work building tech solutions to urban problems, just released its teams of fellows out into the wild. In Seattle, the group is working on a project to bring government, institutions and citizen groups, like block watch groups, into closer contact.

The Seattle team will be working in a city that embraces openness more tightly than most. While some other major American cities have open data portals, Seattle's stands out for posting data on 911 calls and individual crimes within 24 hours after the crime is reported.

"To actually get a dataset out there on crime data and even [a] police 911 call dataset, that happened faster than I thought it would," Bill Schrier, Seattle's Chief Information Officer, told me recently. Schrier is celebrating the first anniversary of Seattle's open data portal this month; it had a soft launch in late 2009, but was officially announced in February 2010.

"The police department had so many requests for public disclosure, they thought that the more transparency they had in getting that information out to the public, the less manual work they would have to do responding to media requests," Schrier said.

In a post earlier this week, Code for America Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka explained that CfA's fellows are currently in the discovery phase of their work, and are tasked with coming back to the program's Bay Area headquarters in California with over 100 stakeholder interviews to guide the designs of their projects. (I reached out to Pahlka and will update if she can provide any more details.)

"We want to find lightweight, creative solutions that cities can easily sustain and grow on their own. Don’t be fooled by our name: in many ways, the code comes last," Pahlka wrote on the CfA blog.

Each Code for America city is expected to contribute $225,000 towards the cost of participating this year, with a slight increase to $250,000 projected for cities participating in 2012. The program, in its first year, is now seeking prospective cities for 2012.

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