Can government be run like the Internet, permissionless and open? And can tech-based solutions, built quickly and cheaply, be a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments and their neighbours?
Code for Australia thinks it can.
Code for Australia is a new platform to make Australian cities more interactive, encourage a more responsive government, and create meaningful change through technology. Through Code for Australia’s programs, passionate web developers join entrepreneurs to work with governments to develop easy-to-use tech-based solutions to city problems.
This model is based on the US platform Code for America, which in less than three years has built more than 600 apps. These have helped cities identify problems, resources and more choices for effective delivery of their plans and services. Importantly, these apps are doing something new in government services’ history; they are spreading virally.
Examples of the solutions developed in the US include an app to adopt fire hydrants during winter to ensure they are not covered with snow, an app that allows city leaders to crowd-source ideas, and a location based call-in system for collecting, sharing and understanding community feedback. In total, there are 661 apps in 384 cities, all of which have taken less than three months to build and a fraction of the cost to bring innovation and citizen engagement to cities.
Code for Australia envisions that this transformation is what governments are craving for. To set aside politics and time-consuming systems to make change, to start fixing and creating things and get to engage more people quicker and more effectively.
From 2014 Code for Australia is going to start selecting a handful of web developers and entrepreneurs and have them work with city governments and identify some of the issues they are experiencing and show what is possible through technology.
The aim is to see government as a platform for change because government is what we do together, but can’t do alone. That politics is not changing, but government and technology is. Developing a model where problems and solutions are identified collaboratively will allow citizens to connect the digital and the physical, and get governments to benefit from the crowdsourcing game.
Code for Australia's vision is based on the recognition that whilst planners and urban designers make a valuable and significant contribution to the future of a city, planning is not the only force shaping the city's future. Importantly, recognising that the idea that government officials can create or plan some idealised future based on today’s values is ambitious to say the least.
While this is going to be a long journey, I am excited to see what possibilities lie in wait for citizens, civic technologists and designers to collaborate with cities.
Visit Code for Australia to find out more ways to get involved.