A Code for Asheville 2017 Retrospective

We did it. We made it through 2017. It’s been a stressful year and signs abound that 2018 might be a little eventful too, but I have to say that I’m ending the year in a more hopeful place than I started it.

I entered 2017 with a deep sense of apprehension about our country and where it might be headed.*  I’m still worried, but we have confirmed over the past year that when we stand up and do our part, it makes a difference. That has been true on the national scene and it’s been true of Code for Asheville members this year as well.

But I was feeling some doubt about that one night a couple weeks ago, wondering if Code for Asheville was really making much difference. I couldn’t sleep and finally gave up and got up to make coffee. I decided to sit down and just outline what happened with Code for Asheville in 2017.

I’d like to share that with you as we kick off 2018.

January, February, March

Things began on a tense note here in Asheville as well. Former co-captain Patrick Conant had worked with Beloved Asheville to analyze data on patterns of arrests of possibly homeless individuals and brought their concerns to the attention of City staff and elected officials. In January and February tensions were high and heading higher.

But at the same time we also began planting seeds that bore fruit later in the year. On March 4, we and the City of Asheville jointly sponsored Open Data Day, where we grappled with the challenge of realizing the promise of open data. And the following Monday all the major stakeholders in the homeless arrest data conversation met and had a chance to hear each other’s concerns and begin to lay groundwork for more productive conversation.

This newsletter was born on February 6 and, after a somewhat wobbly start, has managed to keep on a sustained biweekly schedule since March!  Early 2017 also saw the collaboration with Code for Greensboro to create a statewide version of the Buncombe reentry resources hub begin to ramp up. We’re looking forward to the formal launch in the next few weeks.

The first quarter of 2017 ended strongly with the launch of SunshineRequest.com, a site created and maintained by PRC Apps that makes it easier for citizens to make public records requests and to see requests others have made. Since then the site has received 62 requests and completed 55 of them so far!

April, May, June

In our second quarter we deepened our relationship with those working to address homelessness. Following a brainstorming session at our April Community Night, Jesse Michel began working with Tracey Childers, Co-Chair of the Asheville Homeless Coalition to improve internal and external communications through their Facebook page and other tools. And Jim March worked with Beloved Asheville to set up a computer lab for the homeless community – the lab launched at the end of June and has been going strong ever since through the efforts of Jim and of Sabrah n’haRaven.

April and May also kicked off Patrick Conant’s collaboration with the NAACP Justice Committee and Ian Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to bring racial disparities in traffic stops to the attention of City leaders. While those conversations were again initially challenging and tense, they have since led more to a much more collaborative effort to use data to improve policing in Asheville.

At our June Community Night we were excited to welcome Kathryn Bradley, a computer science teacher at Clyde A. Erwin Middle School, who gave a demo of the platform students use to build mobile apps. Tyler Bradley is leading the effort to find ways for Code for Asheville to work with Kathryn and her students next year.

July, August, September

Our typically slow summer season was enlivened significantly by a visit from the awesome Jen Pahlka, founder and Executive Director of Code For America. In addition to speaking and leading a lively discussion at our July Community Night, Jen spent all the next day meeting with City staff and community groups to learn more about all that’s happening here in Asheville.

That event also marked the end Jesse Michel’s tenure as co-captain of Code for Asheville. I am so grateful for all his work in that role and delighted to welcome his ongoing efforts as an ordinary member (more on that below)!

Later in July we held a joint hackathon with Code for Greensboro to work on the reentry project with 7 people here in Asheville and another 20 in Greensboro. And in September we kicked off Code for Asheville’s latest effort, a new storytelling platform.

October, November, December

Jesse Michel has led the way on StoryTell Asheville by creating a beautiful, but minimal site for collections of stories about and by communities, with a focus on the voices of those who have traditionally not been heard and of those who are working to empower them. It only has placeholder content right now, but we began collecting stories of Code for Asheville members at our December Community Night and will continue that in January.

The other major theme of the final quarter of 2017 has been our connection to other brigades, both here in North Carolina and nationally.

In early October, I represented Asheville at CityCamp NC in Raleigh, presenting on the reentry project as well as helping kick off a new cross-brigade project, Are We Represented? You’ll be hearing more about both projects in the next few weeks.

In mid-October Sabrah n’haRaven and Scott Barnwell traveled to Philadelphia to the first annual National Brigade Congress. I am very proud to say that while there they definitely continued Code for Asheville’s tradition of national leadership!

And, finally, an early December gathering in Greensboro of leaders from all the North Carolina brigades resulted in the official formation of the Open NC Collaborative, whose goal is to connect, support & strengthen NC brigades and help them extend their benefits to the entire state. I’m looking forward to discovering new ways for brigades across the state to learn from and support one another.

So, looking back, perhaps we’re not doing so badly after all. There are things that can be improved, and I’d love to figure out how to let more people plug in and make a difference. But mostly I’m proud of and grateful for the role Code for Asheville members have played this past year in our community and look forward to seeing where we go from here.

Eric Jackson
Captain, Code for Asheville

* Code for Asheville is non-partisan. At the same time, everything we do is based on shared values of equity, inclusivity, government transparency, and respect for all members of the community. All of those values have been subject to direct attack this past year and we consider it a part of our mission to resist such attacks.

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