One year ago we said, “Hello, World!” and launched not only a new team, but also the promise of a new way of working with and for the Federal Government. The first 15 of us committed to making government services simpler and easier to use—a mission that continues to guide us. We set out to do this by drawing on principles of user-centered design, developing in the open, and incorporating agile and lean development practices.
Our goal was (and is) to transform the way the U.S. government approaches problems. We proposed we could accomplish this by:
- putting the needs of the American people first;
- being design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven;
- working in the open to make our products stronger; and
- deploying our products early and often.
Our goals and approach established, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. With each new project we take on, we know the long tail of our impact will be the education and empowerment we share with our partner agencies. And, following in the footsteps of the UK’s Government Digital Service, we’ve been capturing, documenting, and blogging about our process as much as possible — not simply for the purpose of recording our history, but so we can share our process and progress with you.
“Just Start” was our mantra in the early days of 18F, and we did. Sometimes we stumbled, but each time we practiced what we preach—build, measure, learn, and do it again.
It’s been an incredible year
The initial idea was simple: Attract talented technologists to the civil service, enticing them with meaty problems and an opportunity for huge impact. The MVP (minimum viable product) was the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, which proved you could get people to give up (or take a break from) their jobs in the private sector to come serve a tour of duty in the Federal Government. The next step? Convince people to serve longer than a six-to-12-month fellowship and join a product delivery team. The results speak for themselves:
- 18F grew from a 15-person team to a 100-person team, including the Presidential Innovation Fellows. Fun fact: We’re still rapidly growing. We have more than 20 people joining us in the next few weeks alone!
- We’re working with 16 agencies on projects ranging from the creation of open data APIs, a service to collect donations, a purchasing approval tool that could save the government millions of dollars, and a platform to facilitate collaborative work amongst a distributed workforce.
- We’ve used lean innovation to improve key internal processes such as hiring, acquisition, software deployment, and finance.
- Our inboxes have fielded inquiries from more than forty agencies.
- Demand for our services has been so high, we helped create a brand new way for agile teams like us to get involved in the procurement process.
- We have employees in 12 different locations, with offices in D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago.
- Teammates left jobs at Apple, Google, Microsoft, Pivotal Labs, IDEO, IndieGogo, Groupon, NPR, the Sunlight Foundation, and more, excited about the prospect of serving their country in this unique way.
- Our team engaged with more than 125 end-users while researching, prototyping, and developing projects.
- More than 100 API teams received training and direct support via our /Developer Program.
- Our open source policy has been forked 14 times, and directly led to the GSA CIO articulating an “open source first” policy for the entire agency.
- We have hosted two hackathons and two demo days, with more around the corner.
- As a team, we’ve published 66 blog posts, tweeted 695 times, and have made so many updates to our code (called pushing a commit) that it took us two days to gather the info because we kept hitting Github’s API request limit.
- We’ve created 203 public repositories on Github. 64 of these have been active just in the last month. (Source: Govcode.org)
- Teammates are creating their own open source software like urlsize and rdbms-subsetter.
- We launched Dashboard to keep the public informed of our progress, project milestones, and reusable software.
- We helped get the first .gov websites pre-loaded into major browsers as always-HTTPS.
- Just yesterday we helped launch analytics.usa.gov, giving the public a view of federal government website analytics for the first time.
And we’re just getting started
During the next year, you’ll see the expansion of several projects and lines of business:
- 18F Consulting, to provide design thinking and technical acumen on a short-term, as-needed basis, helping agencies acquire better software.
- 18F Talent, to help agencies identify and recruit cutting-edge technical talent.
- FISMA Ready, a toolkit that provides Federal information security compliance for open source software.
- Agile Delivery Services BPA, a micro-market blanket purchase agreement to help agencies acquire better professional services.
- A partnership with the U.S. Digital Service to help hire and start digital service teams like ours at many other agencies.
Not to mention the fact that we plan to double in size and scale our services to make a larger impact. Check back here in one year and hold us to it.
Finally, a personal thank you to the entire team. It is an honor to work with passionate people who are absolutely committed to both making our team better and our government better. And thank you to our partners. Sixteen agencies jumped in with both feet in our first year, taking a leap of faith that with great talent comes great possibility.
As we set our sights on 2016, we’d love your feedback and ideas, and we also need your help!
If you’re a designer, developer, or technologist who has …
- A couple of hours: Check out our “help wanted” tag on Github.
- A couple of days: Attend a hackathon, or peruse our Dashboard for open source projects.
- A couple of years: Your country needs you!