We are fairly wrapped in Silicon Valley culture–striving to be the best and solve the hardest, most interesting problems. Jen Pahlka’s talk is a startling reminder that simple clarity of thought is all that is really required to enact widespread change. Pahlka’s experience with government agencies gives her a clear picture of the problems that were produced when their complex, archaic philosophies were applied to technical solutions. In many cases, resources aren’t lacking, but rather the fault lies in the structure that is meant to distribute them to those in need.
Whether those resources are answers to simple questions about getting your Driver’s License in Hawaii, or actual physical food that is being held from you because of a problem with your CalFresh account, the resources exist. What Pahlka and her team of Code for America programmers do seems like something close to heroism. In what would be considered a blink of an eye in government time, Hawaii’s practically unusable government site became a place where simple questions could be simply and reliably answered. Similarly, CalFresh’s interface was cleaned and beautified until it was beyond recognition, and thousands of hungry citizens gained access to a consistent source of food. But Pahlka reminds us that the work that Code for America is involved in does not require superhuman talent, but rather simple design, clean code, and common sense. Streamlined, intelligently designed technical solutions allocate resources were they should be allocated. With that in mind, heroism has never seemed so attainable.
By Vivian Hare