Naming + "Code for"

At last night’s first Network Transition forum, we heard a lot of strong comments about the implications of keeping or needing to change existing Brigade names. Starting a discussion here for people to add their thoughts. How might a name change affect your Brigade?


Code for Philly was originally envisioned as the “Philly Civic Hackers Guild” and we were recruited by Code for America to be Code for Philly instead—to be part of building a national movement

We’ve spent about a decade now building our brand AND Code for America’s. If we were to be forced to change our name not, it would be devastating to us, to the network, AND to Code for America

For us, we rely on volunteer leaders and organizers to do our work. Being affiliated with the established local institution Code for Philly is a part of the value they take away from volunteering and helps them go about doing work in our community. Not only would a brand reset take away value from having our group on their resume and make their day to day job knocking on local organizations’ doors harder, the rebranding itself would be another big pile of unpaid work no one signed up to do. It would seriously hit our organizing team’s morale, and we’re a relatively large and established group

For the network, it would be a huge blow to our ability to unite behind a common banner and impact local groups ability to trust being part of any national affiliation

And for Code for America, they need to keep in mind that today’s brigade volunteers and organizers are tomorrow’s state and city CIO’s and deputies. It would permanently hinder CfA’s opportunity for incredible impact to impart on an entire generation of civic technologists that CfA can’t be trusted not to destructively jettison anything they build once the next initiative comes along. The reputational damage of an entirely unforced destructive action like clawing back a brand that was built collaboratively over a decade would be deep and lasting


I’ll join my voice with everyone else here who finds this current outcome to be wholly disappointing. I’ve been involved with the Brigade program since inception, and was part of the first class of Brigade Captains recruited to found Code for Boston. That’s a decade of involvement in this movement, in local civic tech volunteering, and with Code for America as an organization. I’ve loved this work deeply: Government technology is immensely fulfilling, and my Code for Boston work has directly led to a career path in MA state government where I helped to found the Massachusetts Digital Team, and later at a govtech consulting firm. The colleagues and friends I’ve made through the Brigade program have been some of the richest relationships I have, and I find the state we’re in currently to be quite regrettable.

That said, as we enter into this transitional period, a matter of great concern to me is the retention of the Code for Boston name and brand. Over the course of the last ten years, the Code for Boston leadership team has built our Brigade into a large, active presence in the Greater Boston area, forging deep connections to local, state, and regional government agencies; local non-profits and community groups; and the substantial technology community in the Boston area. We’ve also supported and advocated for Code for America’s programs, leading directly to the 2015 Somerville Fellowship, among other initiatives.

We have over 7000 members in our Meetup group. Over 30 of our members have gone on to take positions in civic technology organizations locally and nationally. Local bootcamps regularly send their students to our hack nights to polish their skills and build their portfolios. Local government partners reach out to us. We are here, embedded deeply in the fabric of the tech and civic scene in the Boston area, as all Brigades aim to do. And all of this hinges upon the equity that we’ve built into the Code for Boston name, reputation, and brand, week after week, hacknight after hacknight, event after event.

I can’t imagine that Code for Boston is alone in this: For the larger, more established Brigades, the logistical, technical, and financial hurdles associated with this transition will be burdensome but ultimately solvable. A change in name and brand identity would be a much larger blow: It would undo ten years of local brand building and name recognition that we’ve dedicated countless volunteer hours towards establishing, and really set our progress back substantially.

As I mentioned, I love this work. I wouldn’t have spent 10 years in association with Code for America if I didn’t believe in the goals and mission of the organization. At the end of the day, I sincerely hope we can come to a mutually beneficial approach on naming convention through the transitional period, and we’re willing to work together to make it so. As always.


Do you know if this also affects “Open X” groups?

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The backlash from a rebranding will be detrimental and a devastation to both Brigades and Code for America alike. Rebranding our Brigades will require us to answer our Partners, Volunteers, and our communities. Our follow up answers, no matter how it’s framed, will not look favorably on Code for America. Regardless of the Brigade size, we all have communities that know us by our branding and depend on our expertise because of the leadership and problem solving we have accomplished. Some will plainly fold and call it a day, which is unfortunate for our volunteers, partners, and above all our communities, who will still require an explanation.

I understand that there is a great deal on the line when managing the Code for America branding. We all follow the guidelines as Brigades are expected to, with care and respect. Our Brigades also have a great deal on the line as well with a name change could be a death sentence, especially for those that have had longevity and are successful with volunteer retention. This news is an even bigger punch to take having to make a stand for the brands that were backed up by an organization but built on our own time and energy.