This post is cross-posted from the Code for America 2015 Summit
We use a LOT of acronyms and abbreviations in civic tech. API, SAAS, CSS, and Repo get tossed around a bunch, but the most valuable abbreviation we use is Q&A. Just as we learn more from failure than we do from success, questions are more useful than answers.
Time and again in the Code for America Brigade, we’ve seen that the most valuable exchange of information comes not from the slide decks and info sessions of CfA staff, but from the spirited Q&A opportunities and unconference sessions between Brigade organizers in different cities. The beauty of the Brigade model is that we have the opportunity to learn from organizers in other cities – who are doing the same work we’re doing – in a non-hierarchical way. And by doing so, we create a rich, diverse network of organizers all asking difficult questions.
Brigades are both similar and vastly different. Geography, demographics, longevity, and support from the local civic tech ecosystem can all impact the functionality and success of a Brigade. Being able to ask questions of Brigade members and organizers in other cities about how they have dealt with particular issues and pain points often proves invaluable to organizers in your city.
Getting answers is great. But the most valuable thing we can do is ask questions. Once we start asking, “How do you feed your members?,” “How do you engage community groups?,” and “What’s the weirdest request you’ve gotten and how did you accommodate it?,” we spark discussions, problem statements, and brainstorming sessions that often lead to more questions – and in so doing, we create opportunities for creative problem solving.
And chances are, if you’ve asked it in your Brigade, someone else has as well. Just like that, you’ve got a team tackling a problem together.
Brigades are many things. One of the most important of which is a self-sustaining support system for other Brigades. We talk all the time about sharing code and best practices but perhaps the most valuable thing we can share is questions.