Jennifer Pahlka thinks government should function more like the Internet: permissionless, open, and crowdsourced. Pahlka, a Yale graduate with a background in game development, founded Code for America in 2009. Lightheartedly referring to the fellowship program as a “Peace Corps for geeks,” Pahlka matches up web geniuses and American cities with the goal of modernizing local government services using customized web applications. Her vision helps foster civic innovation.
In her 2012 TED Talk entitled “Coding a Better Government”, Pahlka explains that unlike previous generations, city residents do not wait for permission to speak about issues important to them; they speak freely through a variety of online media. Channeling this phenomenon, Code for America fellows create web applications that circumvent traditional government services and involve citizens in urban problem-solving. Residents can report and help resolve such issues as wild animals on the loose, malfunctioning fire hydrants, or stopped-up sewer drains. Pahlka states, “A neighbor is a far better and cheaper alternative to government services.” Pahlka encourages listeners to change the way they view government and to begin seeing it as a platform for people to seek and offer help to each other.