2018 Impact Report

The events of 2018 made it clearer than ever how much we need a government that works by the people, for the people, in the digital age

From family reunification hindered by poor software tools to a nuclear false alarm to more failures in delivering critical safety net services, people all over the country are realizing just how fundamental the digital competency of government is to our democracy.

But 2018 was also a year of enormous progress toward Code for America’s vision. We showed what’s possible in service delivery at even greater scale, helped even more governments learn to do it themselves, and welcomed more people into this growing movement, all underpinned by a new set of principles and practices for government in the digital age: delivery-driven government. And we did it because people like you cared, helped, and financed this important mission.

Below are just a few stories of the ways that we’ve expanding our scale and our reach, driving real impact in communities all over the country.

Code for America is building a movement for better government for the people, and by the people, in the digital age. Join us by supporting our work.
Enabling a new paradigm in record clearance policies

Two years ago, we set out to show that there was no reason that people with expungeable criminal records should continue to live with the burden of a criminal record. Why? Because there are thousands of legal obstacles people with criminal records face—obstacles that hinder every area of life, including employment, which keeps people in poverty and limits economic growth in local communities. But also because we find it unacceptable that voters and elected official scan pass laws but, essentially, not implement them. Because of government’s poor service delivery, only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of Americans legally eligible to clear their records have done so.

In 2016, we launched Clear My Record as an opt-in service for people to clear eligible records online, and that service has helped 10,000 people get connected to lawyers and start the process. We’re incredibly proud of that accomplishment. But for us, that still wasn’t enough. This year, we took a dramatic step.

10,000 people filed for record clearance

The right way to clear criminal records is automatically, accessing and analyzing state and county data and removing eligible convictions from the records of affected people without the end user having to lift a finger.

What’s better than a streamlined, digital process for users? No process at all! The right way to clear criminal records (better, faster, and cheaper) is automatically, accessing and analyzing state and county data and removing eligible convictions from the records of affected people without the end user having to lift a finger.

We’ve partnered with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and we’ve already submitted 7,000 motions for clearance, with our sights set on 250,000 through our pilot with a few more California counties and Philadelphia, PA in in the coming months. But the point is to create a blueprint that can be used across the country, and to change the conversation.

We need to remove the excuse that it’s hard to implement these policies at scale; in 2018, no one should bear the burden of conviction that voters and lawmakers have already deemed voided. Because contact with the justice system should not be a life sentence. And because government can work as it should.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón discusses our pilot partnership to automatically clear eligible records.
Dramatic expansion of access to food assistance

Last year, we reported that we’d helped 140,000 people apply for food stamps in California through our service GetCalFresh. By the end of this year, we will have helped more than three times as many people. We’re operating in 36 of the 58 counties in California, including a recent launch in Los Angeles County, where 25% of the CalFresh-eligible population lives. Statewide, GetCalFresh is now available to about 80% of the eligible population.

In addition to scaling our reach, we’re diving deep into our data to ensure that we’re providing the best possible service to clients. The GetCalFresh team published a series of blogs on understanding and overcoming the barriers that clients face with verifications, income inquiries, and eligibility expectations. And we highlighted key learnings from data around GetCalFresh user acquisition in Digital Outreach Playbook: a guide for applying digital marketing tactics to service delivery for vulnerable populations.

500,000+ people helped with food assistance applications

More importantly, this project isn’t just about helping families in need and increasing one state’s access to a program proven to alleviate poverty at scale. As with all our projects, it’s about showing what’s possible when government puts user needs first, and changing the broader system.

We’re proud to share that GetCalFresh is doing just that; the California Health and Human Services Agency is considering GetCalFresh a model as it moves towards building a new client portal for safety net programs, meaning that our scrappy little skunk works project, operating for so long at the margins, is moving to the center of the conversation. You’ll hear more from us about what that means in the new year.

Creating a human-centered safety net

Building on our work in California, we’re showing what’s possible in delivering integrated safety net benefits to those who need them. After more than a year of field research, we announced our partnership with five states to pilot faster, more effective, and less expensive ways for people to access critical government services.

By focusing first and foremost on user needs, we can break down the barriers that push people further away from basic needs like food and healthcare, and provide relief to the millions of people who are still falling through the cracks of our social safety net.

Our remaining state partnerships are in various phases, ranging from the completion of research on product opportunities to pilots of tools focused on streamlining change reporting and democratizing access to services. We look forward to sharing more stories in 2019 on our work towards building a social safety net that is truly human-centered.

Launching a new and improved Code for America Fellowship

In 2018, we launched a new fellowship model: the Community Fellowship, in which talent from the existing Brigade network pairs with local government to work on sustainable projects to improve their communities and transform government from the inside out. With the Community Fellowship, we are giving dedicated civic technologists a real taste of what it’s like to work in government, as well as educating government on the importance of giving tech talent a seat at the table.

By rooting the new Fellowship in our existing volunteer network, we are lifting up and investing in Brigade members who have already done the work to address real user needs in their community, and enabling them to work more closely with their government partners.

The 2018 Fellows are working across the country to encouraging innovation, reducing risk through early user involvement, and increasing the capacity of the public to serve government and government to serve the public.

The 2018 Code for America Community Fellows are working in local governments across the country.

As for the Brigade network, we’re proud to report that it is now 78 Brigades strong! These tireless volunteers are working in every corner of the country, on projects that are driving real change in their communities. The issues they are addressing range from immigrant power of attorney to summer meals for children to hurricane response, and dozens more. 25,000 people have volunteered for a Brigade in the past year, and we only expect to see this number grow in 2019 and beyond.

Building a national movement

Finally, we are mobilizing people around our vision of how government can serve people in the digital age. Our work is critical not just for the people we serve, but in the second– and third–order effects that it creates in the government technology ecosystem.

Through our products, we are influencing government at the city, county, and state level—not just our partners, but those who are hearing about our work and learning that there’s a better way to build government technology.

Federal government employees attended our annual Code for America Summit, where they had a front-row seat to the announcement of our vision for delivery-driven government.

400,000 impressions on Summit content 50,000 newsletter subscribers
A group of people in the audience at Summit 2019 applauding

Code for America Summit 2018 drew 1,200 attendees from all levels of government.

Our incredible Brigade volunteers are on-the-ground evangelists for government that works in communities of all sizes across the country.

We influenced important legislative efforts in California with AB 1793, which bridges a significant access gap and delivers on the intent of the voters who passed Proposition 64.

We intend to continue on this path to ensure that government is effectively implementing the promises it has made.

We’re incredibly proud of all of the strides we made in 2018, which would not have been possible without your support.