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Engaging in Civic Engagement in Your City Using Tech!

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We all want our city to be great especially for our family and friends. As residents we have the right to offer ideas and solutions to increase civic engagement. Code for America provides residents with a way to connect to City Government. Code for America believes government can work for the people, by the people in the 21st century. They build open source technology and organize a network of people dedicated to making government services simple, effective, and easy to use.

I had the privilege of attending the Fourth Annual Code for America Summit in San Francisco, California with the local Code for America Philly Chapter and fellow Philadelphian from City Government- Tim Wisniewski, the Chief Data Officer. (Code for Philly is volunteering 2.0. They create opportunities for citizens to modernize Philadelphia through the power of the web).

It was inspiring to hear many stories around the globe about people (especially young people) creating jaw-dropping solutions to helping others in their cities. One app created in Atlanta, GA by a young female named Tiffani (the best name ever). She founded Pencil You In, enabling businesses as far away as Australia to operate more efficiently by accepting appointments online. Also, CyclePhilly an app created right here in our city, is a smartphone app for recording bicycle trips. The data from the app will be used by regional transportation planners in the Philadelphia area to make Philly a better place to ride. This growing community of government enthusiasts around the country is changing cities locally and nationally. The civic tech movement is driven by city residents, volunteers, tech experts, and government employees using their creativity and tech skills to make their cities innovative and a better place to live.

In order to pull off a successful summit with hundreds of attendees, you need an impressive list of sponsors and partners. I interviewed one of the Capstone Sponsors, Microsoft. Thea Nilsson (San Francisco Civic Engagement Manager at Microsoft) gave me the inside scoop about their on-going relationship with Code for America and their commitment to making cities better with technology.


Philly Speaks: Tell me about Microsoft’s Partnership with Code for America.

Thea Nilsson: Microsoft and Code for America share a lot of things in common. Both companies work towards helping people realize their potential in helping their cities. Microsoft is honored to support Code for America and to work with their 900+ attendees during the summit.

Philly Speaks: How long has Microsoft worked with Code for America?

Thea Nilsson: Different employees within Micorsoft have always had a relationship with Code for America members and the relationship has grown over the years. Throughout different cities and various projects, together we have created great solutions for cities.

Philly Speaks: Describe projects Microsoft is working on with Code for America?

Thea Nilsson: We have Hyper local- technology and civic engagement teams at Microsoft. We are closely working with the Cities: NY, Chicago, Boston, DC, San Francisco. Each city has a Code for America Brigade that meet weekly or monthly. Microsoft is interested in becoming a part of the conversation with solving issues in different cities.

Philly Speaks: What workshops did Microsoft create throughout the Code for America Summit?

Thea Nilsson:

1. Breakout session on “The New C-Suite: Partnerships and Impact,” Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 9 a.m. The discussion will also focus on how to affect and assess impact, sustainability, scale, and partnerships at the intersection of government services and innovation.  Moderated by Jeff Friedman of Microsoft, formerly of Philadelphia’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.

2. Talk at the ignite session on Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m. that will preview some exciting new research on online communities in civic tech coming out of Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs.

Philly Speaks: Microsoft has a unique approach on working with the youth. Tell me about the new program Microsoft YouthSpark. I’ve had the opportunity to attend one of the events in Philadelphia.

Thea Nilsson: The Youthspark initiative started about 2 years ago, after Microsoft discovered statistics stating young people between15-24 year olds are more likely to be unemployed around the world. Microsoft decided to create a cross-company global focus- to help increase youth employment and entrepreneurship especially through a technology focus. Microsoft’s goal was to reach 300,000 million youth worldwide within three years. To date they have reached 227,000,000 through working with city government, schools, and non-profits. During the program, each city approaches helping the youth in different ways with activities such as events, on-line Skype programs, workshops, and more.

Philly Speaks: What would you like for people to learn about Microsoft and Code for America?

Thea Nilsson: We would like them to learn there are many ways to help their city. Residents can start by going to their local Code for America meetings and offering different ideas that can make their neighborhood better, than their city.


Written by: Tiffanie Stanard, Philly Speaks Co-Host and Producer

Follow us on Twitter @Philly_Speaks


For more information on Microsoft, please visit

For more information on Code for America, please visit

Philadelphia Chapter: