At Code the Dream, we believe technology has the power to build a better, brighter future for everyone. But with great power comes great responsibility. How can we leverage these great technological innovations to strengthen our communities through civic engagement?
Throughout the campaign, we’ll be talking to authors, politicians, scientists, and our own CTD staff and apprentices about the ways tech can serve as a vehicle for connecting communities and improving lives.
Below is a spotlight of the government information app, Upstate NC. Enjoy!
HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY MAKE AMERICAN POLITICS MORE TRANSPARENT?
The 2016 election season was a wake-up call for many folks in North Carolina. Then-Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the polarizing “HB2 bathroom bill” which brought national attention to the state. Some state residents felt the bill had been quietly and unjustly pushed through the legislature without public knowledge or input. Closed-door legislative pushes like this are what led entrepreneur Kelly Garvy to build Upstate, an app helping to bring transparency to the legislative process and keep the public informed on issues they care about.
“A lot of legislation is made behind closed doors with people scheming in the dark,” said Garvy. “These are lightning rod topics, which, by definition, are some of the most important because they get people upset.”
Garvy received her Master’s degree in Environmental Economics and Policy from the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in 2015. While working on her Master’s thesis, she found substantial barriers to tracking legislation important to her research. “The system was really only for lobbyists. I wanted to build something that the public could access,” said Garvy.
She sought out the skills necessary to build a minimum viable product, or MVP. “I taught myself front-end development and databases. The design came more naturally.” Eventually, she enlisted the help of Code The Dream to expand on the site’s functionality and services.
HOW IT WORKS
Upstate allows any user to track and advocate for legislation in the state of North Carolina. Proposed legislation is “scraped,” a term used in software development to describe the process of scanning a website for information. This process provides key terms that users can choose to monitor over time. For example: if education is an important issue to you, Upstate lets you track keywords like “school,” “teachers,” or “education” so that when bills are proposed with those keywords, you are alerted at every step of the process – proposal, to litigation, to voting, to final outcome. Remember Mr. Bill?
The app relies on pulling information directly from the NC legislative website. If the site structure changes, or the server goes down, so does the app, presenting a challenge to the Upstate team. Because each state legislative website is uniquely developed and managed, replicating the process for other states, a feature users consistently ask about, is a herculean task. “We would love to take on the challenge if the funding was there,” said Chuck Anderson, staff developer at Code The Dream who leads the Upstate project.
Even with these potential roadblocks, “it’s better than the alternative,” said Anderson. “Right now, you have to send in a check and ask for a CD recording if you want a copy of the meetings. It’s a really antiquated process.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UPSTATE NC
In the spring of 2020, Code The Dream took over for Garvy as the main owner of the project. Dan Rearick, one of CTD’s co-founders and a graduate of Harvard Law School, views Upstate as a perfect example of one of the organization’s “win-win” projects. “Upstate as a product provides more transparency in the legislative process, and it also provides a fantastic learning opportunity for new coders.” Code the Dream’s program trains aspiring software developers from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the tech industry who gain experience working on real projects. Sheila Hernandez is one of the apprentices that currently works on the Upstate project. “I’ve learned so much on this project,” said Hernandez. “Not only the technical aspects of the code, but also about how our government works! So it’s been really rewarding.”
Code the Dream hopes Upstate will help more people access information about the North Carolina government and use the app as an opportunity to level the playing field. “We have about 10 million people in North Carolina, but only a small percentage of them are unaware of what’s happening on a regular basis,” said Rearick. “Code The Dream hopes to change that through Upstate.”
If you are interested in using Upstate, you can sign up for a free account at https://start.keepupstate.com/
If you’d like a demo of the pro version, schedule an appointment with our team here.
Code the Dream offers free intensive training in software development to people from diverse low-income backgrounds. In CTD Labs, our coders work with experienced mentors to hone those skills by building apps and technology platforms for a range of startups, nonprofits and government clients. The ultimate aim of Code the Dream is to create a unique win-win, where our coders gain real experience building apps that make the world a little better place, and then use that experience to launch new careers with enormous opportunity for themselves, their families, and their communities.