Notes from our recent Code for America panel and breakout session. Watch the recording here.
CivStart’s Task Force helped us identify many strategies that the various actors can take to grow and support underrepresented govtech entrepreneurs in the US. At Code for America’s 2021 Summit, we presented several of the strategies to get feedback, ideas, and provide inspiration to start putting these into practice. So what did we all learn together?
1. There is a lot of interest both from inside and outside local governments.
We saw participants from local government offices, nonprofits dedicated to inclusive entrepreneurship, civic hackers, and more. We heard smart, critical, and supportive comments from individuals from all sectors. There is real interest in this work, and many people invested in helping us take this from ideas and words to action and case studies (and we are looking for more!)
2. Local governments can have big impacts, but can’t solve all of society’s problems alone.
It was important to keep the scope of our project in mind: inclusive entrepreneurship in the govtech sector. Rather than focus on the limits of this program to solve all of society's inequities, it was important to maintain focus on the real and important impacts that local governments can have for aspiring entrepreneurs and the diverse communities they serve.
3. Open source software is important to leverage the Code for America community’s expertise and efforts toward this challenge.
Many people expressed the importance of open source software, or at least open core software to allow them to best contribute their skills and effort toward a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in govtech. Local government support for historically underinvested founders utilizing open-core models, strikes us as a great way to support underrepresented entrepreneurs while maximizing the impact of their businesses through the volunteer work of the Code for America brigades.
4. Putting governments in the position of risk-taking is the only way forward, but it isn’t without potential costs.
The definition of risk is to have the chance for things to go badly, and during the pandemic, many local governments were put in the position where risk-taking toward digital services, remote-work, and other changes became necessary. While risk-taking on govtech companies run by underrepresented founders and their innovative technologies will be necessary to move to a more equitable system, risk-taking for its own sake too often means placing the burden of risk on those same communities we are trying to improve outcomes with. Pointedly, some members of the breakout shared that “move fast and break things” is a bad idea for local governments, but on the other hand, “moving slow is a privilege,” with the status quo already causing harm. Programs, funding, and other support for local governments will be necessary to encourage inclusive govtech, while also de-risking the adoption of these technologies.
5. Local government needs to reimagine how innovation, equity, and inclusion are integrated across the entire organization.
One strong feeling from several participants was that internal innovation departments or internal equity & inclusion departments are not as effective as integration into the organization as a whole. That means each department should get the resources and training needed to approach their unique work with an equity and inclusion lens and with an innovative approach to technology. Specifically, we heard that a particular group focused on just innovation or equity and inclusion inside a local government can have the perverse effect of creating a silo between that group and the rest of the organization, and even lead to other departments feeling relieved of the duty to concern themselves with these important issues since there is a group dedicated to it.
Interested? There are many ways to contribute to this effort. We are especially interested in those willing to take action:
Action – We need members of the govtech community who are interested in putting some of these strategies into practice.
Support – There are still more strategies and research that can be uncovered with funding to hire a research assistant for this project.
Ideas – This project still needs more ideas, case studies, and refinements from people across the govtech community.