MENU menu
  • Awarded: 2018
  • Issue Areas: Economic Opportunity
  • Countries Served: USA
  • Web:
  • Download Profile Pdf

    About the Organization

    Government doesn’t work as it should for many Americans today. Flawed bureaucratic processes keep government programs from reaching the tens of millions of Americans they are intended to help. They also trap people with the fewest resources in cycles of needless incarceration. Forty percent of people behind bars in the U.S. are there for no compelling public safety reason. And in California alone, 2.2 million people eligible for food assistance don’t get it.

    Code for America instruments government systems to uncover the impact of technology, operations, and policies on the public. Its program areas are threefold: health, criminal justice, and workforce development. Its process is user-centered, iterative, and data-driven. First, Code for America helps users navigate the systems; then it works with governments to improve those systems and get better outcomes for both users and taxpayers.

    Code for America has built multiple pathways to scale. It builds easy-to-use, open source digital services that improve government program delivery, then uses data gleaned from these services to work with government partners to fix operations. Code for America promotes policy change that actually works by centering it in real-world data. It builds bridges for government leaders to share best practices via a nation-wide civic tech movement, with thousands of volunteers in 64 active chapters, called Brigades, which work with local governments to engage the community and improve services.

    Flawed bureaucratic processes keep government programs from reaching the tens of millions of Americans who need the help most.

    Code for America’s open source, user-centered approach equips government to optimize services for people in need.

    Jennifer Pahlka helped found the U.S. Digital Service before launching Code For America to leverage technology to fix how government works.

    Code for America is expanding to eight more states in 2018, and now has 64 active "brigade" volunteer chapters across the country.

    Ambition for Change

    Americans eligible for critical government services will equally access these services through simple, respectful, and easy-to-use platforms. Government meets its potential to serve all citizens, and the playing field is leveled with access to safety net services for the disadvantaged.

    Path to Scale

    CfA open-sources its code and processes to enable replication, and codifies its processes and learnings for dissemination to government leaders and influencers. CfA advises government program and procurement leaders and large vendors, and hosts the largest civic tech convening in the country: the Code for America Summit.

    Jennifer Pahlka is the Founder and Executive Director of CfA. Early in her career, she built a $15 million media portfolio for game developers and a similar business for web developers. But her first job out of college was with a child welfare agency. While running web 2.0 conferences, she began exploring how to apply the principles and values of the participatory web to government, and became aware of the disparity in how government programs run relative to tech companies. She became obsessed with the notion that technologists had a critical role to play in social change by helping to fix how government works. In 2009, she launched CfA as an opportunity for technologists and designers to give a year of service working with local governments. She quickly saw the voracious demand for these partnerships, and a network of volunteers—Brigades—was born. In 2013, Jennifer took a year to serve as the U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer in the White House, where she architected and helped found the U.S. Digital Service. She returned to CfA to reshape it into an organization that operates digital services at a national scale, with an iterative, user-centered approach. Jennifer has won MIT’s Kevin Lynch Award, the National Democratic Institute’s Democracy Award, and a 2012 Ashoka Fellowship.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Code for America’s open source, user-centered approach equips government to optimize services for people in need.
    • Code for America will help more than 500,000 people in need with more effective government services in more than 70 cities, states, and counties in 2018.
    • Expanding to eight more states in 2018, Code for America is making it easier for people to access government programs when they need them most.


    Jennifer PahlkaFounder and Executive Director, Code for America
    Jessica SilvermanDirector of Development, Code for America

    See All Awardees →