Leading the Field: Contasia Placide

A conversation with the Associate Director for Events & Experiences at Code for America

For our “Leading the Field” Q&A series, we’re speaking with leaders in the civic/gov tech space who are driving important change to make government work by the people, for the people, in the digital age. In the time leading up to Code for America Summit 2023, we’re lifting up the voices of Summit speakers and planners who are working to ensure the government can serve everyone equitably, with dignity and respect. This week, we spoke with Contasia Placide (she/her), the Associate Director for Events & Experiences at Code for America—in other words, the person who makes Summit happen each year. At Code for America, we welcome a broad diversity of viewpoints—and we strive to let people speak in their own words about their own unique experiences. With that in mind, the following has received only minor edits for length and clarity, and the views expressed here reflect those of the author.

You’ve planned seven (seven!) Summits now. What makes this event so unique?

It’s pretty wild to think that I’ve been at Code for America for seven years now—which makes me the third-longest-serving employee! In that time, I’ve seen a lot of change at Code for America and in the broader civic tech ecosystem. We’ve grown so much as an organization, weathered the pandemic, and seen administrations change at all levels of government. The thing that’s remained consistent that whole time for me is Summit. It’s always been a point of connection for people to feel and experience that change together—to explore new possibilities for the future and map out what our next steps as a civic tech community look like. 

I remember that during my first Summit, I was so overwhelmed! I was working with a new team and nervous about having everything come together. Three days before the event, I received a call that Cecilia Muñoz, who was serving as the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama at the time, was no longer able to travel due to a high-priority conflict, but she still wanted to participate in Summit. This was before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we weren’t very experienced with virtual options. We had to scramble to figure it out—she ended up Skyping into the conference from the Situation Room in the White House. At that point, I felt like I made it. 

Stories like that are why I still get excited about planning Summit every year. There’s always something new, and it’s never the same event twice.

What are the most important values you bring to your work as an event producer?

I have three really key values. The first is inclusion—I want to make sure that the experience is accessible to people from all walks of life, and I want them to see themselves represented on stage and in our programming. The second is connection—I want to ensure that people have space to feel like a part of a broader community, especially now that the pandemic has pushed many of our jobs online and remote connections can be harder to make. The third is collaboration—in many other industry events like this, there isn’t the opportunity for the community to really be a part of forming the event. But at Summit, everything is collaborative. From our open call for proposals to our Summit Content Committee with people from all over the world of civic tech, collaboration is present every step of the way. 

Can you tell us a little about what first drew you into working in civic tech?

I’ve worked in marketing and advertising my entire professional career. With event production, I’ve always been intrigued by the process of nurturing an idea from the very beginning, pushing it to take on a life of its own, and then seeing how people interact with the final product. 

I was inspired to work in civic tech in part because my mother, who recently retired, worked for the federal government since I was born. I’ve heard so many stories of antiquated systems, processes, and procedures for years—and seen the perspective of someone working inside government trying to make it better. When I first heard about Code for America and the organization’s mission, I was immediately intrigued by the impact and excited to be a part of that kind of work.

I was inspired to work in civic tech in part because my mother, who recently retired, worked for the federal government since I was born. I’ve heard so many stories of antiquated systems, processes, and procedures for years—and seen the perspective of someone working inside government trying to make it better.

What inspires you to stay in this work?

The past three Summits have been the most challenging of all my time here. Summit 2020 was canceled six days out from when it was set to begin, which was right at the beginning of the pandemic. With the amount of work that goes into each Summit, that was a pretty devastating blow. Then Summit 2021 was a fully virtual event, which we’d never done before. And then Summit 2022 was a hybrid virtual/in-person event, which was a massive undertaking to organize both those spaces simultaneously. We’re back to all in-person for Summit 2023, and I couldn’t be more excited to welcome everyone to Washington, D.C.

One of the biggest things that keeps me motivated is just the sheer excitement that Summit garners—we received more than 300 session ideas during our call for proposal process this year! I’m excited that we’re now expanding Summit beyond just two days in May to include a year-round programming series called Find Your Summit. It’ll be virtual events that bring the spirit of Summit to wherever you are—a chance for people to continue to share insights and gain inspiration all year long.

This year’s Summit theme is: Showing what’s possible in a changing world. What will make this Summit special?

There’s a few reasons this Summit is special. First, we’re back in D.C., which feels like we’re firmly making a space for civic tech and innovation at the heart of government, not just in Silicon Valley. It’s really important to feel like collaboration can happen across the country, and having Summit in D.C. is representative of our mission to combine the best tools and practices of the tech world with the passion and drive of government. Second, we’re re-introducing lightning talks, which are short-form impactful talks that allow for more diverse perspectives on stage outside of the breakout sessions and mainstage programming. I think this will really keep us in the true spirit of Summit as a place where anyone’s story can inspire change. In the end, that’s what Summit is all about—working together to break through some of government’s biggest challenges. 

Want to be a part of Summit when it comes to life this year? Code for America Summit is happening May 16–17 in Washington, D.C. Find out more about Summit and get your tickets today!

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