Naming Convention Discussion




I imagine that an org’s title is often its first and most critical marketing artifact. If the title doesn’t have a clear connection to its mission, then that shifts a lot of mental effort to the public/non-members to figure out what we’re about.

If we’re going to keep the Code for America/state/city convention, then we should clearly prioritize coding and thus be a specialized member of our greater civic tech community.

If we’re going to keep our mission of being about generally making government work better, we should allow more naming conventions for brigades who don’t center on coding and find “open ___” to be for whatever reason inappropriate.


This month we started the transition from “Code for Charlotte” to “Open Charlotte Brigade” after approval from our leadership team. I think we came out of the 2017 Brigade Congress inspired by all of the discussions surrounding non-technical projects and we’ve struggled with the overly-technical / “are you a coding school?” image, so we decided to make the change.

We have a lot of programmers show up but we’re looking for a more constant flow of non-technical community members to join us like they do at NDoCH and all of our other special events. If we lose some technical reach but gain some community members to help guide our projects and technical approaches, that’s a win.

We’re still in the process of switching over so I look forward to sharing how it goes in a few months once we’ve switched and have had time to notice some feedback :D.


Reviving this thread to share our perspective in Buffalo as a brigade just starting out.

Similar to what others have mentioned, our brigade members have also been hesitant about using the name Code for Buffalo. Since our city still struggles with high poverty rates and deeply entrenched racial and economic segregation, it is very important to us that we make our brigade as open and inclusive as possible, particularly to non-technical community members.

We absolutely would’ve gone with the name Open Buffalo except for the fact that Open Buffalo is an existing organization funded by Open Society Foundations and dedicated to social and economic justice. We will certainly be partnering with them on projects though.

With “Open _” no longer an option, we took a look at a few other organizations and particularly liked the model and mission of the Smart Chicago Collaborative (merged to become CityTech Collaborative). Since this past winter, our core team has been meeting with city officials and operating under the name Smart Buffalo Collaborative.

In June, we had a conference call with CfA about formalizing as an official brigade and one of the points that came up was about the MOU requirement. Over the past two weeks, our brigade has discussed the naming issue and the members prefer to stick with the name we’ve been using. Someone suggested that if we can’t get an exception for “Smart Buffalo” from CfA, to see if there’s a way to have our formal name be something like Smart Buffalo, a Code for America Brigade.

Even when comparing “Open _” and “Smart _” there isn’t too much of a difference and ultimately if the brigade is doing a good job engaging with the community, then the name mainly matters insofar as the impression it gives to the public and to non-technical audiences.

Open _

  • can associate it with open data and open collaboration
  • neutral name for non-techies
  • name doesn’t make it exactly clear what the organization does

Smart _

  • can associate it with smart cities (+/- depending on how one defines a “smart city”) or approaching a city’s challenges in a “smart” way
  • relatively neutral name for non-techies (might loosely associate with “smart tech”)
  • name still doesn’t make it exactly clear what the organization does

Code for _

  • tech-specific name for non-techies
  • name clearly implies either a city-affiliated coding school or a coding-based volunteer service, like the name Teach for America


We know the issues with “CodeFor*” …

I just wanted to really echo that I feel “Open*” is really not a helpful name … it means nothing to the general public, and is vague at best for the tech community. But it is at least not offensive or exclusionary. I’m not saying I don’t like the name, but it seems like it is trading one set of issues for another.

“Smart*” … at least starts to suggest some kind of improvement or intelligent approach to whichever city… which is more focused than “Open*” … although it has no meaning of tech to most of the general public, unless they associate it with a “smart home” (which has had some marketing to the general public). To the tech community, it may also suggest things more along the lines of “smart homes” or IOT. Despite the lack of clarity, this is also less exclusionary than “CodeFor*”

To me, unless we go with an extremely explicit name, the only way we can clarify the name to the general public, and broaden the understanding such that we get attendance from all sectors, is to ramp up outreach and recruitment… aka marketing. And to follow on Harlan’s point, re-branding has such a cost in any community where the brigade has already been established for a while, that only some very damning statistics about attendance increase in moving away from CodeFor* would suggest doing so.

If we look at those who were grandfathered in… BetaNYC, Sketch City… neither name means… anything clear to the public, as far as recruiting, just based on the name alone. And if we look at long established “Open*” groups, they seem to be doing fine - for example Open Oakland. So these groups are cases where the importance of the name is proven to be of fairly low relevance in terms of recruiting… aside from the importance of establishing the name, sticking with it, and building up the brand’s reputation.

In other words, if you are a new brigade, it seems like you can choose whatever you want, and just stick with it… it won’t make a big difference.

If you are an existing brigade with at least some name recognition in the community, you’ll probably be better off continuing to build up and clarify your brand. Unless of course your brigade has had some issues and you need to escape a stigma associated with the existing name.

So perhaps the thing is … the name issue is being used as a scapegoat for explanations of why it is hard to recruit people?

I imagine all the cases where someone has asked me “So, what does Code for BTV do, anyway” … my immediate reaction is “oh we should use a different name that is more self explanatory,” but then I think about the options and the only names that are self explanatory for what a brigade really does are … really long. And if our name does start a conversation about what the brigade does, that may be a more useful recruiting tool than just clarifying the name itself.