On Hold Ups, Not Hang Ups
More than a week later and the CfA Summit is still on my mind. I left energized by how many Brigades are charging ahead. It was great to represent Open Salt Lake, and introduce our new co-captain, Tyson Anderson, to the CfA community. One refreshing (and reassuring) takeaway was that many Brigades struggle with similar hold ups, no matter how big or well-established.
1. Retention and Accountability are core challenges across the board. It’s stating the obvious, but getting people to come to a hack night, then to return and plug in as a regular volunteer is difficult. Project managers who can lead through transition make a big difference, and good documentation and a repeatable set of processes (e.g., using GitHub/Wiki tools) are keys to keeping things going. Other suggestions for addressing retention or accountability issues:
- assign dedicated members to support new members (Code for Charlotte).
- get people engaged right off the bat and working on something specific to build their connection to the group (Code for Miami).
- identify champions for projects since ideas don’t work when people are not attached (Code for Philly).
- require stand-up presentations on projects on a regular basis (Code for Boston).
2. Diversity of membership is a common Brigade goal. Everyone wants to build a group that includes a range of skillsets, expertise, and demographics. Designers and UX experts are often a missing link, as are close connections to local community groups. Some Brigades need more technical talent while others are looking for deeper, more productive relationships with their government partners. Direct outreach to specific organizations and individuals, with an invitation to participate on a specific project that relies on their knowledge, connections, and skills helps draw in people. Other ways to increase membership diversity:
- build deep partnerships with other hacknights, meet-ups, and groups (schools, non-profits, public sector services) to align strategy, gain momentum, and focus on meaningful community problems (Code for Philly).
- make personal introductions and get explicit about who you want to participate and why (Code for Germany).
3. Project selection and development is a big part of most Brigade work, but figuring out which tools and applications to invest energy in is sometimes a process of trial and error. Not all ideas can move forward, and the project development cycle is often long making it challenging to get to launch. Lessons from the field include:
- develop specific criteria for project selection and a clear project development process to manage workflow (Open Oakland).
- draft problem statements to define and focus the work on specific and relevant local needs (Code for Boston).
Making government work for and by the people in the 21st century is not simple, but it’s inspiring to see that the stumbling blocks facing individual Brigade chapters are not a hang up for the larger movement. The wins (engagement, partnership, and technology) are impactful, and the community continues to grow. Leaning on each other and sharing strategies strengthens our collective effort. Thanks to the network, Open Salt Lake left the Summit with some concrete ideas for tackling a few current challenges and a whole collection of people to call on for help along the way.