This case study is part of a report we published in April 2018, exploring how “super nodes” support DSI initiatives to grow and scale. You can read the full report here.
Supernode: ePa?stwo Foundation
A space for activists and IT developers in seven Polish cities that serves as the incubator for tech projects serving public interest since 2014.
Issue to be resolved
As ePa?stwo Foundation is a civic tech NGO, we were approached both by “civic” and “tech” communities to help them with specific issues. We realized that the “civic” community generally has no tech background and, as a result, no dedicated funding to develop and run education programs on technology. On the other hand, the “tech” community wishes to share their competences for social purposes, but does not have a thorough understanding of what is useful for citizens. We also learned that there are true reformers in public offices who see the need to solve problems with the use of technology, but lack resources and knowledge. For that reason we have established the project Code for Poland.
Code for Poland is an interdisciplinary community seeking technological solutions to civic challenges. Code for Poland’s vision for the country is efficient public institutions being citizen-centric, companies focused on social issues operating on public data, progressive NGOs knowing how to advocate with data, citizens involving themselves more in public matters, and lastly, dialogue that builds trust among all of these actors.
With the help of user experience (UX) mentors and other experts, we educated our leaders and team members to approach their ideas in a systematic and hands-on way. Simultaneously, we focused on ideas coming from non-governmental organizations that work with certain social problems. We assigned them mentors who become translators of NGOs’ needs into the language of IT projects. We also push for open-source solutions and promote the usage of open data.
Role of the super node
Although it is a project run by ePa?stwo Foundation, local brigades have autonomy to work in their own manner and elaborate the tools needed in the local context. ePa?stwo supports them with a moderate budget for meetups. There is a national coordinator whose role is to build brigades and support their activities in different aspects.
Code for Poland is based on a synergic approach based on three pillars:
- Advocate – create dialogue with public institutions and NGOs, recommend them progressive open solutions like open data platforms and publishing t 42 procurement info, stimulate integration with various partners.
- Create – build innovative social prototypes, applications and services. Repeat successes with deployment in other cities/areas.
- Discuss – participate in discussions on our forum, on conferences. Propose new ideas, debate ones published by others. On the more technical level, we provide a forum on the website where people introduce their ideas, look for partners and communicate with them on the specific projects. Tools’ documentation is hosted on GitHub.
- In 2017 we organized over 80 brigades’ events in 6 Polish cities: mostly projectoriented hacknights but also workshops, onboarding sessions and project pitchings.
- Starting from 2014 we have prototyped around 70 civic tech apps.
When we asked people what they value the most in Code for Poland, the most popular answer was: the other people involved in it. That confirmed we are building a strong community of dedicated people, but we are convinced we can do more. To our taste, the community is still not connected enough nationwide. Most of the projects developed in the brigades have the potential to be scaled geographically, but our online efforts to connect brigades have not yet brought the desired effects. The energy of the brigades comes from the regular offline meetups, where we can and should do more. We are aiming for regular nationwide networking events to connect people to show them there are many dedicated people that believe in the same values and that want to propel collaboration, engage new partners, and raise the reach of Code for Poland. We want to create personal bonds that last longer than the code and interfaces we create.
Voluntarily led brigades, as any volunteer based efforts, have their advantages and disadvantages. They are full of dedicated and amazing people, but everybody has limited time they can devote to voluntarily activities. With many of the brigades we have reached a situation in which their leaders are highly motivated, know what actions they should take for a brigade to grow, but just lack time to implement them. To tackle that, we want to introduce professionalization of the brigade leaders who have shown commitment and effectiveness. To simultaneously raise the skills of key people in the brigades we plan to organize internal workshops for project and brigade leaders.
We have seen that some promising projects could not get enough people and skills on board to develop sustainably. That is why we would like to introduce project grants to give space for dedicated project leaders to bring their prototypes to quality production level. Brigades will remain as idea hubs allowing for experimentation and prototyping, while promising projects will be evaluated as potential candidates for the project incubation supported by mentors. We also hope to find sustainable business models for some of our projects with the help of mentors involved in project grant incubation.