Jennifer Pahlka

Jen Pahlka founded Code for America, a Bay Area non-profit working to reshape the way government works through the use of technology and public service. She joins us in the studio as part of our “First Person” series on the leaders, innovators and other compelling characters that make the Bay Area unique.

Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, which works with web professionals and cities around the country to promote public service and reboot government

  • Kris

    I think Code for America is truly an innovative and genius approach to helping  local governments bring information and services to the people. I’m a government information librarian, and am wondering if any cities out there are looking for information infrastructure solutions to manage and archive their publications, information, data, etc.

  • Pete

    With so many applicants (both geek and gov) what limits expanding your programs to more cities?

  • Sanfordia113

    This is a great project. Very libertarian, too! The problem people have with government is that it is slow and usurps citizens’ rights to participate in society, by socializing tasks and costs. When the government forces people to pay high taxes so the government can turn around and hire cronies to provide bad service, people get disillusioned. When people can participate through voluntary contributions in collective self-interested motives, the system inherently works better.

    • Carnot Antonio Romero

      Two things: 1) you won’t always get enough, or properly distributed, voluntary contributions of money, skill, labor etc.. 2) you seem quite convinced that government does nothing but siphon money to cronies. It’s just not that simple, and it’s just not that bad out there.

  • Richard Burg

    Exciting mix of volunteerism, knowledge, innovation, and action. Two questions:
    1. Are governments only ‘clients’?
    What about other non-profit entities. Hospitals, schools, NGOs, etc.
    2. How are you funded? Sustainable model?
    Great work!

  • What a practical solution to improving government at the local level! I live in Oakland and would LOVE to be part of the brigade (if Oakland gets to work with you). How do I get on your ‘list’?

    • Hi Paula,

      You can check out the Oakland Brigade (“Open Oakland”) here:!forum/openoakland

      The main site for the Brigade program is here:


  • Agatasul

    What we are saying is that large corporations and wealthy americans start foundations instead of funding city government. If we fund our cities and care to expect good services instead of bashing our city employees, we can get beautiful results. This approach is a band aid, not a solution.

    • Carnot Antonio Romero

      Foundation-type projects can be a great arena for experimentation and development of new methods that can find their way back into the mainstream of how government works, if they’re allowed to… Entrenched habits and entrenched interests (like the companies that excel at procurement, as were discussed in the program) represent a threat to innovation. I suspect we agree, though, Agatasul, that it would be a disaster if these semi-outsider efforts were taken as an excuse to defund city government. 

  • Scott Gifford

    Great program! Give me an app that enables my phone to act as a radar gun to clock speeding drivers going past my rural property. Law enforcement basically says “We don’t have the resources to patrol your back road” as drivers roar up & down my 35 mph road. If I could call them back and say “Here’s how many drivers I recorded going above 50 mph past my house”, perhaps they’d listen.

  • Rose on the Peninsula

    Great program, and, especially — how refreshing to hear a woman host for a change!!!  I had to check which station I was listening to.

  • Carnot Antonio Romero

    Great program on the whole– I second the praise from most of the people below. I did wish that the phrase “agile software development” would have showed up at some point… but I rather like the idea of reworking the RFP process to permit rapid, iterative development of solutions that actually fit the needs of the users they serve. I hadn’t thought about how those two things come into conflict before.

    Here’s something Code for America could take on (if it weren’t, probably rightly, aiming to be apolitical): A smartphone app that would show commuters all the sub-standard, deteriorating, unsafe bridges in their immediate area, and allow them to tap to see details of the safety issue, and to contact their state and federal representatives to demand safe infrastructure! Probably something that could be built in a week or so by a motivated volunteer.

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