Summit Preview: Technology + Policy

Get a sneak peak of the events, speakers, and themes in the Technology + Policy track of the 2021 Code for America Summit
“Technology and policy track deep dive” is written in white font on a purple background next to a picture of someone with arms raised wearing a Code for America jacket

Code for America’s 2021 Summit is happening May 12-13 with pre-Summit workshops on May 11. This year, our speakers will lead sessions in four tracks: Design + Delivery, Civic Innovation + Data, Operations + Management, and Technology + Policy. In this preview, we’ll be focusing on Tech + Policy. This track is a deep dive into delivery-driven policy, where technologists and policy leaders from diverse backgrounds work together, iterating on and delivering improved outcomes for the communities we serve. To find out more, we spoke with track lead Amy J. Wilson, the Founder and CEO of Empathy for Changeand content committee co-chairs Arlene Corbin Lewis and Ryan Ko, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Chief of Staff at Code for America, respectively.

Help us get everyone on the same page. What does policy have to do with government technology?

Everything! In many ways, policy and technology are two sides of the same government coin. Policy is how the government creates the guardrails for our democracy, and implementation and delivery are how those policies are brought to life. But there’s often a disconnect between the intention of policy and the impact of implementation, which often happens through technology.

Those who create the policy shape the world. But it’s up to those receiving the policy to see it through. If the point of policy is to set the kind of society we want, it’s also true that many policies simply do not live up to their intentions and create all sorts of unintended impacts during their implementation. It’s like a car where the steering is only loosely connected to the wheels: we may fight over who’s in the driver’s seat, but regardless of who’s driving, we’re not going to get where we meant to go without a better connection—and we’re likely going to hurt people along the way.

Understanding this responsibility, Code for America introduced the concept of delivery-driven policy a few years ago with a vision for how both policy and implementation can work more closely together. That’s why we have a Technology + Policy track at Summit!

What makes this track particularly relevant right now?

The pandemic has forced government and public servants to react more quickly and work in a rapid, iterative way. This is true both of policy and delivery.

That iterative process has led to innovations across government—and many policy wins during the pandemic were the result of data collected through implementation. For example, the Food and Nutrition Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) waived in-person interviews for people applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits during the pandemic. This common administrative burden became unsafe in a pandemic—but data also revealed a bigger insight about the process. Rather than deter fraud, data showed that in-person interviews often deterred those who qualify for SNAP benefits but could not make the interviews while working multiple jobs and/or taking care of kids. So the policy was updated to be informed by delivery.

An example of the disconnect between policy and delivery is Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT). The legislation was intended for children who were not getting free and reduced-price meals due to school closures. Indeed, the program helped many children and families across the country. But some states did not have the data available to actually identify the children who needed the benefit and effectively deliver on the program. At Code for America, we were fortunate to be able to help many states with their P-EBT delivery—but the connection to policy cannot be ignored.

What unique value does this track add to attendees’ Summit experience?

Policy and delivery are so closely linked. We’ve curated a broad set of examples about how delivery/implementation and policy can coordinate and collaborate in a way that improves outcomes for everyone. Technologists looking to work more closely with policymakers, non-technical public servants who are administrators, and policymakers themselves will get something from attending this track. We hope that this track inspires participants to deliver on the stated goals and intended outcomes of policy to design an equitable government together.

Want to see more of the Technology + Policy track? Check out all our session descriptions here or browse through a sample of sessions in this track below:

  • Enhancing Public Services through Policy Design and Implementation
  • You Can’t Go Home, but You Can’t Stay Here: Helping Local Leaders Combat the Impacts of Housing Insecurity Using Open Source Data and Tooling
  • Strategies for Making Govtech More Inclusive

Hear from speakers in government, non-profits, and the private sector, like: John Katt, the Director of Technology Development and Data at the Office of the New York City Public Advocate; Kristina Francis, the Executive Director of Jobs For the Future Labs; and Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani. These speakers and many more are eager to engage with you!

Still haven’t signed up for Summit yet? Don’t worry! Tickets for the 2021 Code for America Summit are on sale through May 13, with tickets for pre-Summit workshops available until May 4. Register for Summit and workshops today.

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