Last weekend, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon met with a group of elected officials from throughout the region at Hacker Lab in Midtown. The meeting followed Code for America’s announcement last Wednesday that West Sacramento will be one of seven cities to participate in its 2015 fellowship program.
Code for America works with cities around the country, using open-source software to improve the scalability and reach of government services. Starting next year, Code for America fellows will work with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the city of West Sacramento using technology to tackle issues related to health care and food access in the city. Cabaldon also plans to involve the local Code for America brigade, Code for Sacramento.
“It’s about figuring out the problems people experience not by doing academic research, but by actually observing people,” says Ash Roughani, the founder of Code for Sacramento. “You’re talking to them where they’re at, meeting them where they’re at, to understand the problems they experience and start thinking about how technology can play a role in solving those problems.”
The fellowship allows West Sacramento to benefit from the knowledge and experience of the Code for America fellows, who will work with officials and the community to identify local resources and residents’ needs. From there they will come up with a plan unique to the area. According to Rebecca Coelius, Code for America Health Lead, similar efforts resulted in EBT Near Me, which connects residents with healthy food sources that accept food stamps.
“Fellowships are awesome for deeply exploring an issue and how it’s happening in one city,” she says. “What I’m really excited about in West Sacramento is working closely with the community to explore different ways technology can make the city a healthy place by default.”
Cabaldon hopes to see whatever comes of the Code for America and West Sac partnership benefit the greater Sacramento region, and to that end stressed last weekend the importance of open data policies that would make information on things like zoning and crop production freely available.
“West Sacramento and Sacramento are the only two cities in the region that have adopted full-scale open data policies,” he says. “For the project that we’re anticipating to work on a regional scale, other jurisdictions need to do same thing. If we want to support citizen engagement and get the broader community of developers and coders involved in solutions, open data is really critical.”
Cabaldon has been working with Code for America on the national level through the U.S. Conference of Mayors for a few years, during which he noticed a lot of the work was being done in large cities that already had entire offices dedicated to innovation and civic technology.
“They kind of called my bluff,” he says of being asked to apply.
West Sacramento is now the smallest city to be selected for a Code for America Fellowship. The fellows will arrive this February.
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