Announcing Gov 2.0 Grant Winners Coding It Forward

Image Credit: Chris Wong

The Institute of Politics' Gov 2.0 Grant is awarded to Harvard students using technology to solve pressing issues in the public sector. The IOP is proud to announce that the winner of the 2017 Gov 2.0 Grant is Coding It Forward. Founded earlier this year by Harvard undergraduates Athena Kan '19, Chris Kuang '20 and Neel Mehta '18, Coding it Forward works to tackle critical policy issues through coding, or in their own words, "Coding to make the world a little bit bettter." Get to know more about this innovative project on the Coding It Forward website and blog.

What led you to start Coding it Forward?

During our time at Harvard, we’ve discovered that government, healthcare, education, and many other areas are stuck in the 20th century in terms of technology, which can be a massive problem—just consider the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov in 2013. Even though there is a huge potential for meaningful and large-scale impact in these fields, frequently the most sought-after jobs and companies are in other sectors. We started Coding it Forward to empower young people to use their technical skills for social good, providing communities, role models, and resources to give them an on-ramp into social impact careers.

What has the response to your mission been like so far?
We're honored to have received overwhelming support from people all over the world. Our network on Facebook counts over 800 members, we’ve found mentors such as a former US deputy CTO and the founder of the OpenGov Foundation, and our work has
been featured in national news publications like FedScoop.
 
For our Civic Digital Fellowship, a fully-funded data science and technology internship in federal agencies (thefirst of its kind!), we received 220+ applications from students at 80 schools and a dozen government agencies have reached out to us wanting to host interns! These numbers show us that there is demand on both sides, and we’re happy to help bridge the gap.
 
What is Coding It Forward doing during the Summer 2017 internship season?
Our Civic Digital Fellowship is hosting 15 students for a fully-funded data science and technology internship program at the United States Census Bureau, including two of our founders, Chris and Neel. We've also connected other top students with unpaid technology and data science internships at the IRS, EPA, VA, and NIST through our Coding it Forward Pipeline Program.
 
We are really excited for a summer of civic tech and to show people all the opportunities that already exist in the space. We’ll be documenting our summer in D.C. on our Medium blog with plenty of posts and photos—follow along at blog.codingitforward.com!
 
How will the Gov 2.0 grant help you to meet your goals?
The three of us launched Coding it Forward just five months ago, in January 2017, so winning the Gov 2.0 grant is an incredible honor and validation of the work we’ve put into growing our organization. With the grant, we’re in the process of incorporating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, growing our grassroots Campus Ambassador network at schools from Stanford to University of Chicago to Yale, and working to expand our Civic Digital Fellowship model to more federal agencies in 2018.
 
What do you think is the future of politics?
Our work at Coding it Forward is apolitical—our mission is to bring civic engagement and government into the 21st century. Both parties recognize the importance of creating a generation of talented students who seek to bring their STEM skills into public service and help government work better for its citizens.
 
We hope that the future of politics will look like the bipartisan support we saw for the TALENT Act of 2017, which was supported by a majority of both parties in both the House and Senate. The TALENT Act codified the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program designed to “attract the brightest minds skilled in technology or innovative practices...to serve a tour of duty” in public service or government. These tours of duties have consequently helped federal agencies better serve everyday Americans.
 
We're seeing agencies like USDS and 18F bringing best practices from the tech industry to government, federal agencies using human-centered design principles to make their products more usable, and a lot of attention for grassroots initiatives like our Civic Digital Fellowship, so we’re confident that technology will represent the future of government.
 
Innovation and technology will inevitably help government be more personal, responsive, and effective for everyone, and this is a future we are proud to help build, one day at a time.