Why a Project Profiles Series?
The series as a concept pre-dates my involvement with Code for Philly. When I entered the project, it had been agreed that the project was needed and someone (me) should start working on it ASAP.
Historically, we haven’t told many stories about Code for Philly projects, often leaving that job up to outside news organizations and blogs. The project profiles series is about the Code for Philly leadership team recognizing that there’s value in telling these stories ourselves in an interesting way. Storytelling is crucial for civic tech. It makes it possible for us to show governments, nonprofits, and the public at large what is possible when you solve civic problems with open data and technology.
The leadership team chose to do three profiles for the inaugural run of the series. They chose projects for the series that had arrived at an end goal or finished product, had attracted some measure of local media attention, and had been replicated by other Code for America brigades or civic hacking groups outside of Philadelphia.
In both the open source community and the civic tech world, a project growing beyond its origins to be used or adopted or edited by others is the ultimate achievement.
In telling the stories of these projects, the goal was to:
- Feature key moments of decision making in the process that directly contributed to the success of the project
- Identify where and how Code for Philly contributed to supporting the project
- Identify where and how Code for Philly could not contribute to supporting the project and what was done to bridge that gap
- Identify moments where projects leveraged existing or new civic or non profit relationships
- Capture the personality of the project and what made it appealing to volunteers, partners, and residents
- Collect feedback on Code for Philly’s role in the project from project leads
We knew in order to get everything we wanted to get out of this project—great quotes for the profile, insights that potentially aren’t documented in project blogs, and feedback on Code for Philly—we’d have to interview project volunteers.
Where possible I conducted the interviews in person. In my personal experience, in-person conversation takes interviews down pathways that often aren’t explored over the phone, where it can be easy for the person conducting the interview to fall into the trap of sticking too stringently to their pre-written questions. I did, however, have pre-written questions, even if I didn’t stick to them.
Questions were grouped into four buckets:
- History of the project
- Launch of the project
- Current state of the project/hindsight
- Feedback for Code for Philly
Here is a sampling of the questions that were asked during the interviews:
- What major challenges did you encounter while working on this project?
- Did you ever want to do more, but lacked either the money or the resources?
- What surprised you most when working on this project?
Of the three projects we profiled, each one took their own path from idea to finished product. Every project was different, addressed a different need and had different quirks and special moments of decision-making that was worthy of specific attention in their profile.
Civic projects are as diverse as the cities they’re founded in and there has been, and will be, a multitude of ways for projects to make an impact.
For as different as every project was, though, they also shared quite a few traits. It’s the hope that in sharing enough of these stories, and finding what shared decisions all of these seemingly very different civic tech projects did to succeed, we can create a roadmap for future projects to follow.
All of the projects we profiled:
- Attracted volunteers to join the project by virtue of having a simple, strong idea like-minded people could gather around
- Started small
- Had someone, or several someones, adopt the persistent project manager role
- Used Code for Philly as a facilitator and knowledge-bank
- Leveraged relationships with civic partners and nonprofits
- greenSTEM used existing relationship between Code for Philly and the Philadelphia Water Department to pursue a grant they needed to off-set dev and hardware costs
- CyclePhilly connected with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to fine-tune their concept and have an end-use for their data collection
- Not in Philly approached an area environmental nonprofit with the possibility for fiscal sponsorship and was adopted as an initiative by the nonprofit
Code for Philly recently turned 5. That’s as good time as any to really take stock of where we are as an organization, what we want to be, and how we can make that happen. During interviews with volunteers for the project profiles series, volunteers were asked to provide feedback to the leadership team. Here’s some of the feedback we received:
“It’s a great opportunity to just learn by doing. Building something is always the best way to learn a new coding language.”
“I think different skill sets [outside of coding/development] could be better welcomed.”
“[Code for Philly] makes it easy to meet people and make connections in nonprofit and in the tech scene in Philly…”
“I wish it were easier to link people up by values and interests, it’s harder now that Code for Philly has a larger popularity.”
We’re going to make the project profiles series an ongoing feature. Writing them is a great way for the leadership team to get to know project teams and collect important feedback on how we’re doing as an organization. The final blogs give the community something to point to when asked for examples of the kind of work that comes out of Code for Philly. We hope to launch round two soon.
In the next version of the series we hope to:
- Interview more than the project leads
- Interview more resident users of end products
- Revisit the format of these profiles: is the blog the best way to share them? What would the community prefer to see?
If you have any specific ideas or asks you’d like to see incorporated into the next version of the project profile series, let us know.
We think Code for Philly has accomplished a lot of really great things in its first five years, and that sketching out what the next five years might look like is pretty thrilling. We hope you’ll stick with us and be a part of that. We can’t do it without you.