Thursday, February 16, 2012

Code for America

You've probably heard of Teach for America, and VISTA, both of which place recent college graduates (and others) in teaching and service jobs, respectively, in high need areas. Now there's a new organization called Code for America, which pays recent college graduates a small stipend to work with city governments "to build and enhance Internet tools that bolster civic engagement." Code for America works with partner cities--this year they include Austin, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Honolulu, Macon, Philadelphia, and Santa Cruz--and provides them with techies--CfA Fellows--who help them solve data problems. The Fellows program solutions, some for the cities, and others shared on the Code for America website.

Code for America's Brigade calls on developers, designers, and community leaders to use the web, and available government data, to address problems by developing apps, sometimes with the support of the fellows. And the apps are pretty great. SnapFresh helps users find retailers who will accept food stamps by texting their location: the app will text back addresses of and directions to the five nearest food stores. (It works by text. you don't need a smartphone.) It works in every city in every state in the country. Where's My School Bus? allows Boston parents to track their kids' bus (the app requires the Boston Public Schools to verify that the user is a parent or guardian). Lunch Roulette  arranges lunch dates among employees within organizations who might not otherwise meet.

An incubator for startups that will draw on open data to provide faster, better and easier services will launch later this year.

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