If you are a former or current Brigade participant, and haven’t taken the Brigade Census yet, you can do so here.
Next year, the United States government will launch the 2020 US census—an opportunity we have every decade to assess who makes up our diverse population, and a pivotal time to ensure we are counting everyone who calls the United States home. We use US census data to determine representation in the US Congress, to learn more about the demographic makeup of our country, and to allocate resources to communities. The US census gives us the opportunity to use basic information about who we are as a country to then make decisions that will best serve our people.
At the beginning of 2019, the Code for America Brigade Network embarked on our first-ever Brigade census to gather demographic data that establishes a benchmark for the current state of the Network. The Brigade Network is a coalition of 80+ volunteer chapters across the country that put technology to work in their local communities to help residents better access government services and information that is critical to improving their lives. We know that if we are going to make government work for everyone in the digital age, we have to make sure that a diverse set of voices and perspectives are shaping the conversation. To support our efforts to ensure that these diversity, equity, and inclusion principles are also reflected in the work of the entire Brigade Network, we wanted to understand more clearly who is currently showing up for their communities through their local Code for America Brigades.
Lessons from census engagement
The first thing we learned is that if we ask people to tell us about themselves, they will. Between February and May 2019, over 1,000 people responded to the Brigade Network census. This level of engagement inspires confidence in the fact that members of the Brigade Network are invested in sustaining a healthy and diverse environment in their communities.
What we can infer from the census results
Based on the answers provided from the census, we found that the racial diversity of our Network is roughly on par with that of the population of the country as a whole. We would like to see the number of underrepresented minorities in tech that participate in Brigades increase and now have our first baseline to work from.
Our network overrepresents those who identify as male, with this population at 70%. 28% of respondents identify as female, and 1% as non-binary. We need to do better and improve the representation of non-male identifying Brigade participants.
Of those 1,000 census respondents, those who identified as Brigade leaders were reflective of both the Network’s gender makeup and racial diversity. This signals that leadership in Brigades is generally not exclusive to people based off of their race and/or gender, though it’s important to note that Brigade membership skews heavily male-identified.
Many tech companies and organizations create environments exclusive to community members over a certain age. People in our Network represent a diverse span in ages, with more than ⅓ of our Network being over the age of 40. On the flip side, 25% of our Network is under the age of 30. We are excited that many young people have decided that being a part of the Brigade Network is a way that they can engage in our civic process, especially during a time when civic participation among young people is at an all-time low.
Lastly, our civic tech network encompasses skills and professional backgrounds across a broad range. Over one quarter of Brigade participants don’t work in tech! This means that folks with backgrounds in community organizing, program management, and other non-technical areas have found ways to contribute to the Network. Because so much of the work in the projects Brigades create is around partnership building and creating inclusive technology, we hope that this number can continue to grow in the years to come.
Areas where we’d like to improve
As we strive to grow the diversity and representation in our Network, we keep in mind that the work that we do often aims to address inequities caused by unjust systems. We believe that in order to effectively do this, we need to improve Code for America’s Brigade representation in the areas of race, gender, and income:
- We’d like to see an increase of our participants that identify as minorities in tech—particularly our Black/African-American and Hispanic/Latinx populations. Given that Code for America’s work is focused on issues that disproportionately affect racial minorities in our communities, we believe our membership should exceed the national average in our racial minority representation.
- The gender makeup of our Network heavily overrepresents people that identify as male, at 70%. It is a priority for us to change this. We strive for our national Network to reflect gender equality at all levels of membership.
- We are concerned that the voices in our Network are overly composed of people with economic privilege (43% of census respondents reported earning over $100,000 per year). We would like to see greater diversity in the income of our Network, particularly because the work we do often disproportionately affects people who are economically disadvantaged.
To read more about where we currently are, and where we’d like to see improvements, take a look at the Brigade Network census report on our website.
The information we gleaned from the 2019 Brigade Network Census is a great opportunity to reflect on metrics around the diversity of our Network, and look toward where we want to be and how to get there through an intentional decision making process. Now, we will be creating concrete goals and action plans, providing resources to Brigade leaders for intentional recruitment and ways to foster a welcoming environment, and ensuring diverse representations at our upcoming events.
We held two events recently where fostering an inclusive environment was a priority for us: National Day of Civic Hacking and Brigade Congress. This year’s National Day of Civic Hacking provided an opportunity to come together as a Network, focus our efforts, provide dedicated resources to volunteers, amplify actions across the country, and leverage the collective power of all of Code for America’s resources. This year’s theme was “Civic Action for Justice” and will focus on the criminal justice system and automatic record clearance. Importantly, National Day of Civic Hacking (September 21) coincides with National Expungement Week—where dozens of local organizations across the country that work in the record clearance space organized together to draw attention to this issue and provide relief to people impacted by the criminal justice system. We hope that through events like National Day of Civic Hacking, we can broaden the pool of folks that find a connection and role within the Brigade Network framework, and continue to attract subject matter experts in the areas which we work within to be a part of our efforts.
Our third annual Brigade Congress took place the weekend of October 18 in Cleveland, OH. As we hold in-peron events to convene as a Network, we want to ensure that 1) Brigades are represented at in person events in an equitable way, with the general makeup of our Brigades reflected in event attendance, and 2) our in-person events are a way to invite in people from groups that may be underrepresented in the Code for America network.
There are many ways to connect with us! You can check out the full Brigade Network Census report, visit the Brigade website to find a group near you, participate in future events like National Day of Civic Hacking and Brigade Congress. Reach out to the Network team with questions and comments; we are always here to support the work of individuals in our communities bringing people together to do great things! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you have not taken the Brigade Network Census, you can do so here.
The census report was created with the significant contributions of Sharon Melmon, who served as the Senior Data Analyst for the 2019 Brigade Network Census.