Tag: Code for America

San Antonio’s Code for America Fellows Create “Homebase” App

Code-for-America-300x123-1Since January, the Code for America fellowship team has worked with the City of San Antonio.

The team made up of Maya Benari, David Leonard and Amy Mok have met with citizens and city officials. They spent a few months here working and then went back to San Francisco to complete their project.

Now they’ve completed an early version of it and they want citizens in San Antonio to test it. They’ve created an app, Homebase, that makes it easier for homeowners to make home improvements in cooperation with the City of San Antonio. They’ve tested the app with homeowners. It streamlines the home building permit process and lets homeowners easily apply for building permits.

The Code for America team wants more people to try the Homebase app and give them feedback, according to Benari.

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Code for America Hosts CodeAcross in San Antonio

Founder of Silicon Hills News

IMG_2720Think of this group as super heroes for the city of San Antonio.

They’re a brigade of citizens seeking to solve the city’s problems through technology with an empathetic twist.

Together, they seek to tackle issues around transparency, information about school closures, creating customer service portals, discovering cultural secrets of San Antonio and city council hot issues.

Those are just a few of the ideas for city web and mobile applications generated from a massive brainstorming session at Rackspace on Saturday. More than 50 people attended Code for America’s CodeAcross daylong event.

They are part of the Open San Antonio brigade, known as OpenSATX. They met in five groups with city officials and looked at San Antonio data sets and ways to use them. And they created lists of problems on yellow sticky notes the city should be addressing.

IMG_2725The event also raised awareness for the local Code for America program.
San Antonio’s Code for America fellows include Maya Benari, David Leonard and Amy Mok. They have been here for three weeks meeting with citizens and city officials. They have one more week to go. Then they’ll take their research back to San Francisco and choose a project to work on.

Benari, a web designer and developer from Los Angeles, wants to make technology more human and empathetic.

“When people think about government it’s not an easy system,” she said.

With events like CodeAcross, the goal is to start with the users and focus on solving their problems, she said. So much of government creates the solutions first, she said.
Benari signed up with Code for America to help people.

“I thought it was an incredible opportunity to have a bigger impact in influencing the things people deal with every day,” she said.

Kyle Rames, a software developer advocate at Rackspace and organizer of San Antonio’s CodeAcross brigade, said the goal of the event is to empower citizens to make change in their communities.

“I think this is an opportunity for people who have questions about how their city works and how they can get involved with it,” Rames said.

IMG_2737The Code for America fellows can’t do everything, he said. So the local brigade will choose projects citizens can work on, he said.

“I think there are a lot of exciting things going on in San Antonio right now and it’s changing right before our very eyes,’’ Rames said. Those initiatives for change include SA 20/20, the decade of downtown and Geekdom, a coworking and technology incubator and now the CodeAcross brigade, he said.

Rames would like to see more of an open data policy from the city.

“So developers can interact with it, especially with the rise of places like Rackspace and Geekdom where people can take that data and apply it very creative ways,” he said.
The city has a finite budget so the ability to tap into the creativity of citizens will provide more solutions, said Hugh Miller, San Antonio’s Chief Technology Officer.

He attended the event to get fresh ideas on how to solve the city’s problems.

The event sought to get customer feedback on city services and how the city in partnership with citizens could create better applications, Miller said.

“How can we make what we’ve already done more simplified to find,” Miller said. “We have this large volume of really cool bits of data but they’re not marketed and consolidated in ways they are easy to consume.”

Collin Beck, Koedal Inc., an iPhone and iPad app company, attended the event because he wanted to help improve San Antonio, particularly its transportation industry.

“I wanted to see how I could help out with my skills to make San Antonio a better place,” he said.

IMG_2721San Antonio can do more to make the downtown area more accessible to its residents particularly by providing more parking, said Wayne Hartman, a mobile app developer.
He attended the event to donate his skills.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities,” he said. “My ability to give back is somewhat limited. But I really like what Code for America is doing. This is a way for me to give back to the community.”

Hugh Donagher, storyteller for the Code for America San Antonio brigade, said the organization needs all kinds of skills. The group is publishing its information under the OpenSATX brand. It has a Facebook page and a Twitter account under that brand and it’s has created a OpenSATX.org website.

“I came to Code for America to check out awesome civic engagement in action,” said Joey Lopez, Convergent Media professor at Incarnate Word University.

Today’s event was about finding knowledge, he said.

“I want to learn how we can improve our roads, improve safety and improve education,” Lopez said. “Those are core issues our city is having fundamental issues with right now.”


Code for America Coming to San Antonio

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Code for AmericaThe City of San Antonio is now one of only 10 U.S. city governments chosen for the national Code for America program. Its status as a fellowship city was announced last week at the annual Code for America Summit.
A national nonprofit organization, Code for America works to create better citizen-government interactions and improve city services though a technologist volunteer program similar in structure to the Peace Corp. Each year the organization chooses 10 cities and around 30 technologist fellows to work in those cities. This January, three of those fellows will travel to San Antonio to begin work on one of several proposed initiatives to improve the citizens of San Antonio’s relationship with their local government.
“We are excited to partner with Code for America and welcome the fellows to San Antonio,” Mayor Julian Castro said in a city press release. “I look forward to the work that the fellows will produce to improve on the quality of services the city provides. This partnership will strengthen the city’s competitiveness as a technology and innovation hub.”
Code for America will announce San Antonio’s assigned technology volunteers in November. The fellows will work closely with San Antonio Chief Technology Officer Hugh Miller and Assistant IT Director Kevin Goodwin – going through a research phase in January and choosing their project by February. Two proposals are currently being considered.
The first initiative is to create a database on every address in the city that will display all relevant services or events that occurred at that point. This would include city services performed at the location – such as road work, solid waste disposal stats, and water services – as well as all the permits requested and crimes committed at the address. This will enable citizens to make informed decisions on whether to buy a house, locate a business, develop a property, or do anything else at any address in the city.
The second initiative will create a website that ties together all the volunteer opportunities in San Antonio so that citizens would be able to log on at one place and become more involved in the city. A database connected to the site will allow the city to monitor and better use volunteer resources by ensuring that the right number of volunteers are working on each project and that they have all the resources they need to complete their job.
Miller had already been communicating with Code for America in the 10 months leading up to the announcement and said that Code for America had been considering San Antonio for a long time. He sees it as a great way to get new talented technologists into government – an area they typically avoid.
“How do you make government appealing to talent? That’s one of the things this program does is you take this talent, you engage them into civic opportunities, and let them get a feel for what it takes to run and manage government and citizen services,” Miller said.
To be considered, every applying city must both pay $180,000 and receive a matching amount from the community. San Antonio’s 80/20 Foundation is financing the other $180,000 and will continue to support the project by connecting the fellows with additional partners and resources The money will pay the fellows’ living expenses and go towards the chosen initiative for the city. The 80/20 Foundation’s Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez believes that acceptance into the program is a huge step for the city.
“I think that being accepted into Code for America changes the brand of our city,” Gomez said. “It says we are an innovative city, that we are looking for new ways to run government business, and it portrays the image we want to the rest of the world which is: We embrace the new talent economy and embrace using new innovative technologies to change city government. It is yet another reason that San Antonio is a city on the rise.”

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