Project Branch Charter: comments and discussion on draft

Draft Version 0.2 (October 2022)
This Discourse page is the best place to share comments and discussion about the Charter.

:information_source: Please Read the README first to get oriented to the themes and purposes this charter supports
:page_facing_up: Please Read the Google Doc for cleaner formatting and (potentially) easier reading

:ballot_box: Now accepting Working Group Nominations!
Review the Project Branch Working Groups and nominate yourself or a friend by simply submitting a comment in the Projects Branch Nominations thread.

Projects Branch Charter


The Projects Branch is responsible for developing the project pool and strategically allocating resources in a manner that promotes the work most valued by our network.

The Projects Branch serves three interrelated purposes:

  1. Cultivating impactful projects that fulfill the values and priorities of Code for America
  2. Connecting people to volunteer opportunities.
  3. Supporting project teams with resources and guidance.


Everything we do at Code for America is driven by our core values: Listen First, Include Those Who’ve Been Excluded, and Act with Intention.

The Code for America Network volunteers are rooted in place — in service of local communities. As a network, we can be most accountable to including those who’ve been excluded by listening to historically marginalized communities of our specific places and creating solutions — hand-in-hand with community partners — with an intentional plan of action that will contribute to a more just and equitable world.

In America, racism is our most profound and fundamental source of injustice and inequity dating back to the origins of our nation. The Code for America Network acknowledges this reality and prioritizes inclusive and anti-racist practices.

Goals for 2022-2023

During its first year the scope of the Project Branch should focus first on solidifying practices to select and support projects, and second, on matching volunteers to project needs. Specifically:

  1. Create selection criteria and process for reviewing all Impact Sprint projects for inclusion as Portfolio Projects.
  2. Nominate and convene the three Project Branch working groups.
  3. Formalize and clarify the support offered to network projects and portfolio projects.
  4. Formally announce the Project Branch and invite all projects to join.
  5. Develop infrastructure/processes for connecting volunteers to project engagements.

The Project Review Process

The Project Branch centers a review process that helps projects grow to be the best version of themselves, directs the annual priorities for the working groups, and ensures that the branch is supporting and incentivizing projects to reflect the spirit and values held by the CfA volunteer network.

The Project Review

Each project in the Project Branch will go through one of three progressive review processes. The reviews are designed to promote the values held by Code for America, the Brigade Network, and ultimately the Project Branch. The different reviews correspond to the different project categories outlined below. This scaffolded approach keeps the barrier to entry low for new projects, while also ensuring that the Project Branch allocates its limited resources and capacity to the kind of work we value most.

The Performance Working Group is responsible for designing, updating, and implementing the project reviews. The review process shall:

  • Prioritize a swift review;
  • Provide constructive feedback to applicants;
  • Occur on request and be repeated periodically for Portfolio Projects;
  • Collect and use aggregate review results to direct project branch priorities.

Cultivating Impactful Projects

Using a project review process will help the Project Branch cultivate impactful, value-aligned projects across the Network. Setting specific review criteria will provide clear targets and pathways to help teams develop projects that meet the CfA priorities of values-driven, partner-led, and impact focused work. The Project Branch benefits all projects, but those benefits increase for projects that have been reviewed and have demonstrated their alignment to Project Branch priorities. Projects which do not pass the review process will receive feedback and support.

Directing Project Branch Priorities

The project reviews represent an important feedback loop for the Project Branch. Methodically comparing our work against our collective goals and values highlights areas where projects are already well supported and places where they need more guidance or resources. Generating and using this feedback provides a data-driven approach to selecting Project Branch priorities and investments.

Applying Network Values

Reviewing projects provides a reliable mechanism to ensure that the Project Branch is effectively guiding network projects in our chosen directions. Progressive reviews create opportunities for conversations and intentional adjustments to project design and execution.

Project Tiers

As part of a ReVisioned Brigade Network, the projects branch serves all Brigades and all national projects. In an effort to align projects with the priorities of the Network and the Project Branch, the Performance Working Group will evaluate Brigade projects and assign them to the following categories:

The Portfolio Tier

The Portfolio Projects are reviewed against our project criteria and found to be the best specimens of Network projects and values. While only a small percentage of projects should be admitted to the portfolio, all the work of the Project Branch working groups should be in support of projects meeting the portfolio criteria.

  • Advisory areas: The Portfolio Projects show us what works. They represent an opportunity to generalize the best practices that helped these projects succeed. The Project Branch working groups should incorporate feedback from Portfolio Projects when deciding which guidance and resources to promote.
  • Opportunity for Advancement: Teams that have reached this highest tier will receive individualized encouragement and support to deepen their impact and sustainability. For many projects this will mean transferring ownership of proven prototypes from volunteer teams to existing organizations or new businesses with greater capacity for product development and ongoing maintenance. Others may explore the opportunity to redeploy projects locally or scale nationally.
  • Level of support: The Portfolio Projects represent our highest ideals of project work, and receive our highest level of support. Direct support by staff, manual volunteer matches, promotion through Network & CfA channels, introductions & partnership assistance by branch staff, some paid/subscription services and tooling, interviews with skilled CfA professionals

The Branch Tier

Branch projects align with some of the Project Branch criteria , but need work to align with all criteria to advance as a Portfolio Project. Branch projects will be supported through the branch resources and direct staff support to advance to the Portfolio Project category. These projects will not be prioritized for promotion.

  • Advisory areas: Collectively, the Branch Projects show us the areas of greatest need. When viewed as a whole, the Branch Project pool will reflect the topical areas that the greatest number of projects need support in. The Project Branch working groups should seek feedback on the effectiveness and completeness of guidance and resources.
  • Opportunity for Advancement: Branch Projects can receive a more individualized level of support once they meet the criteria needed to advance to the branch Portfolio. The working groups are tasked with creating opportunities and resources that help the greatest number of Branch Projects meet the Portfolio review criteria.
  • Level of support: The Branch Projects will generally be supported as a whole rather than as individual projects. The Branch will develop activities and opportunities that support the greatest number of these projects progressing towards becoming a Portfolio Project. They will have access to existing, non-subscription paid services.

The General Tier

General Projects are the most inclusive category of projects. Criteria for joining the Project Branch as a general project are intentionally simple, focusing mainly on the alignment of the

  • Opportunity for Advancement: Once a team’s work has been accepted as a General Project it will receive guidance and encouragement on improving key areas such as local impact, community partnership, and strong alignment with CfA values.
  • Level of support: Passive support. Inclusion in the BPI, access to workshops/videos/playbooks for best practices, pathway for communicating with working groups.

The Icebox Projects

Projects that have lost their momentum, but meet a majority of the criteria. We can provide best practices and minimum thresholds for documenting and retaining knowledge and code. Projects branch will promote the most promising abandoned projects as good starter projects for new/recovering Brigades.

  • Opportunity for Advancement: Projects that are accepted into the Icebox will be promoted as potential starter projects for brigades seeking new work, and will be publicly visible with information about how to thaw the project and resume work on it.
  • Level of support: Guidance for project teams in preparing to add a project to the Icebox, occasional promotion of icebox projects to volunteers/partners seeking new work/solutions.

Project Support

The Projects Branch is responsible for supporting project teams and volunteer participants.

The different types of support will be made publicly available in the Project Support document. The Performance Working Group will be responsible for maintaining and publishing this document.

The Projects Branch should offer passive support and visibility to all projects which serve the values and interests of Code for America. The support provided should help teams develop their projects in ways that are aligned with the priorities of Code for America and will help them meet the criteria for admission to the Project Portfolio.

Project Team Support

The Project Branch will provide resources and guidance to help projects become the best version of themselves, with the ultimate goal of meeting all necessary criteria for becoming a Portfolio Project. Best practices will be shared that will help projects meet the necessary criteria for inclusion in the Project Portfolio.

This pathway will be established iteratively over time. Topics will be pursued which the Branch Project and Portfolio Project evaluations indicate are most needed. The Project Branch will share best practices in the form of playbooks, workshops, topical discussions, templates and so forth including but not limited to:

  • Designing impactful projects
  • Developing local partnerships
  • Improved project management
  • Recruiting & retaining volunteers
  • Funding/fundraising practices (best practices)
  • Transferring project ownership to a partner
  • Storytelling & promotion
  • Code for America branding & promotion
  • Technical resources and recommendations

Project Participant Support

Volunteer Matchmaking - Create a system which makes it easy for volunteers to see project opportunities, and for projects to find volunteers. An emphasis will be placed on visibility into volunteer skills and project roles. Preferred projects will be given priority for this matchmaking.

Volunteer Onboarding - The Project Branch will develop onboarding processes for organization-wide topics. Volunteers will be introduced to Code for America, our culture (based on our code of conduct), and philosophy regarding how we want to pursue and apply civic technology. Project-specific onboarding will be the responsibility of the project teams.

Volunteer Engagement - Current project openings and network-wide opportunities will be made visible to volunteers.

Volunteer Working Groups

Each Project Working Group should have up to six members from the volunteer network. The main focus will be to provide governance, set goals and evaluate and/or ready projects for volunteer contributions.

Working Group Appointments

Each work group will have 6 seats with the following norms:

  • Appointment. Members join work groups by first being nominated during the annual Brigade Congress, and then being selected by the DEI Leadership Committee. Special appointments of recent nominees may be made by the DEI Committee as needed.
  • Duration. The working group will have three 2-year seats and three 1-year seats
  • Rotation. Members will rotate on and off the working groups each November following Brigade Congress. All members - both those joining and those departing - will mark the beginning or ending of their participation by attending a virtual 3-hour weekend “annual retreat”.
  • Commitments. Working groups will update individual working norms after each annual rotation, but at a minimum members are expected to:
    • Meet as a whole team no less than every two months.
    • Attend all “annual retreats” including both those at the beginning and end of their tenures.
    • Actively contribute to the creation, review, and maintenance of their working group’s resources and responsibilities.

The Performance Working Group

This working group will be responsible for the prioritization, review, selection, agreement, and evaluation of projects for the Project Branch. Its primary measure of success will be the appropriate balance of the Project Portfolio. Key responsibilities include:

  • Project reviews: This working group will execute a process for the timely review of projects that wish to become a Portfolio or Branch Project.
  • Evaluation criteria: This working group will update and publish all evaluation criteria. It will solicit and apply the experiences of other Project Branch working groups, project applicants, the CfA Network Team and its own observations.
  • Portfolio balance: This working group will keep the desired balance of projects in the project portfolio by prioritizing the development and application of Branch Projects, as well as the review and removal of projects which no longer meet the Portfolio Project criteria.

Key partnerships include:

  • Coordinating with CfA Network Team Staff to keep portfolio balance goals and project evaluation criteria in line with network action priorities.
  • Collaborating with the Participation Working Group to ensure that as the number of projects and their needs grow, the branch will be able to place skilled, and prepared volunteers in a timely manner.
  • Working with the Project Development Working Group to select new resources and improve existing materials that help projects enter the Project Portfolio.

Key public documents/assets owned by this working group:

Core competencies for working group nominees may include:

  • Strong familiarity with Code for America and Network values and methodologies
  • Program management and evaluation
  • Quantitative analysis

The Participation Working Group:

This working group mobilizes volunteers, helps projects find needed skills, and offers projects volunteer organizing advice and support. Its primary measure of success will be the swiftness by which projects receive the specific volunteer help they need. Key responsibilities include:

  • Volunteer pool: This working group will recruit and maintain an appropriate pool of volunteers. It will proactively promote volunteer opportunities to both the public and to Brigades, in coordination with the CfA Network Team’s marketing & communication staff.
  • Code for America onboarding: This working group will assist projects by ensuring that volunteers understand the values and preferred methodologies of Code for America.
  • Project & working group placements: This working group is responsible for selecting and implementing the processes that provide projects with the most suitable volunteers, and which place experienced and committed volunteers on Project Branch working groups.
  • Events: This working group will be responsible for coordinating events of the type and frequency needed to maintain healthy engagement of both volunteers and projects.
  • Volunteer organizing: This working group assesses its own effectiveness and promotes project efficacy by providing volunteer organizing support, advice and educational opportunities.

Key partnerships include:

  • Collaborating with the Performance Working Group to understand and meet the volunteer needs of project teams as the number of projects and volunteers grow.
  • Collaborating with the Project Development Working Group to promote events and workshops that will help project teams cultivate qualities needed

Core competencies for working group nominees may include:

  • Code for America values and methodologies
  • Marketing, promotion, and volunteer mobilization
  • Volunteer management and coordination
  • Community leadership and organizing

The Project Development Working Group:

This working group is responsible for the processes and initiatives that help projects become the best versions of themselves. Its primary measure of success will be the number of projects that advance from General Projects to Branch Projects and from Branch Projects to Portfolio Projects. Key responsibilities include:

  • Project development: This working group will support CfA staff in the execution and planning of intensive efforts in the spirit of the 2022 Impact Sprints to help a selective cohort of projects meet the criteria for joining the Project Portfolio.
  • Project evolution: This working group will support Portfolio Projects that need support in making significant leaps in their structure or impact. Examples may include mobilizing a National Action Team for a large-scale initiative or redesigning successful localized projects for national redeployment or vice versa.
  • Resource library: This working group is responsible for producing effective learning resources that best support project development. This working group will produce original content, and aggregate existing materials from the Network Team, individual Brigades, and staff from the eight Code for America Disciplines of Human Centered Technology (Qualitative Research, Service Design, Project/Product Management, Product Engineering, Client Success, Data Science, Solutions Engineering, Engineering Operations & Security). The resource library will be easily navigated and openly available by all Brigade and non-Brigade projects that join the project branch.
  • Icebox repository: This working group is responsible for selecting and admitting projects into the Icebox repository. This process is to be presented publicly in the Icebox Admission Process document
  • Events and workshops: Planning and executing events which strategically expand the resource library while also supporting interests of the Participation and Performance working groups.

Key partnerships include:

  • Coordinating with the Performance Working Group select resource collection and creation that support the current criteria for project advancement and portfolio balancing priorities.
  • Collaborating with the Participation Working Group to promote, plan, and execute events and workshops that support the development and advancement of projects.
  • Working with Human-Centered Technology Branch workgroups who can share, curate, and develop resources that specifically support the advancement of branch projects.

Key public documents/assets owned by this working group:

  • Project Resource Library
  • Icebox Repository
  • Icebox Admission Process

Core competencies for working group nominees may include:

  • Content management
  • Informal learning and education
  • Writing and digital media
  • Event coordination
  • Project management

Project Selection Criteria

This outlines the general criteria that different projects should meet in order to be considered for the different project categories. The specific criteria will be made publicly available in the Selection Criteria document maintained and published by the Performance Working Group.

General Projects should meet the following:

  1. Project has a theory of change that is aligned with Code for America’s mission and values
    The project plan is centered around a community partnership that aims to empower communities, transform tools and services, change policies, or improve programs.
  2. Project has a dedicated project team
    Two or more members who are committed to advancing the project plan

Branch Projects should also meet the following:

  1. Project has community partner(s) aligned with Code for America’s mission and values
    Projects should have a partner and/or advisors within the community that are able to provide subject matter expertise and evaluate the feasibility and strategy of the project.
  2. Project supports marginalized and/or racially marginalized communities
    Projects should identify ways to support the Code for America value of including those who have been excluded.
  3. Volunteer opportunities defined
    Volunteer roles, time commitment, and experience requirements are well documented.
  4. Measurable metrics
    Metrics that the project will measure and the plan for collecting and reporting the metrics are well defined

Portfolio Projects should also meet the following:

  1. Documentation standard
    Project well documented and volunteers can self-orientate. Projects open source repository, project backlog and roadmap up to date.
  2. Partnership commitment ongoing
    Community partner is committed to continuing to engage with the project team.
  3. Project ownership pathway
    A clearly defined role of Brigade and the partner such that it is clear how and when (or if) project ownership and maintenance will be transferred to a project partner.
  4. Strategic Direction & Sustainability
    Project has a plan for long term sustainability, project team roles are well defined, project has automated systems that allow for contribution
  5. Demonstrated local impact
    Project has demonstrated use or change at a local level.

Branch Portfolio Targets

These portfolio targets specify the overall balance of projects that the Project Branch wishes to keep. Setting portfolio targets allows some selection flexibility while ensuring that the Project Branch overall is still serving its intended mission and values.

Since the Projects Branch seeks to support a diverse set of priorities set by Code for America, the Brigade Network team, Projects Branch constituents, and active members of our community we recognize that not all projects will support all priorities. However it is still important that the Projects Branch Portfolio as a whole has the desired balance of projects. The following is the overall balance of concerns that we believe should be represented by the Project Branch Portfolio:

Portfolio Values Target

Two things are true of most projects: they will support multiple values, and they will not (meaningfully) support all values. With that in mind, the Project Branch will specify a target for the distribution of value-based work. The specific target percentages will be made publicly available in the Portfolio Targets document maintained and published by the Performance Working Group.

In general, the values target should be aligned with the Code for America Mission & Values, the Code of Conduct, and the annual priorities of the Brigade Network.

Portfolio Topics Target

The Project Branch will maintain a separate target for the project topics it seeks to develop. Since most projects will support several different values and priorities, but typically fall under a single topic, we will set different targets for values and topics. The specific target percentages will also be made publicly available in the Portfolio Targets document maintained and published by the Performance Working Group.

In general, the topics target should be aligned with the Network Priority Action Areas, the Code for America Program pillars, and the annual priorities of the Brigade Network.