Sometimes it’s not enough to teach one person at a time to fish: There’s a whole hungry village in need of the skill. While there’s no substitute for personal instruction and mentorship, that effort scales far more effectively when there are clear, concise materials to introduce the basics. 18F Guides aims to fill that role for our young and growing team, and we hope it may be of use to others as well.
Coalescing best practices
18F Guides aims to serve as the repository for best practices across 18F project teams. None of the content is particularly original or groundbreaking; however, organized well and cultivated over time through our open source process, these documented practices should enable us to share and apply knowledge across projects, allowing incremental improvement as our experience grows. As our projects benefit from this knowledge sharing, so will our partners and the people they serve.
The guides themselves exemplify our adherence to open source development as a best practice. Not only is the source code and full text for all of the guides published on GitHub, but most of them are based on the DOCter template created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Our canonical adaptation of DOCter is contained in the 18F Guides Template.
These guides are especially useful to new team members, who need to get up to speed quickly on the 18F way of doing things, for example: handling accessibility issues, following agile methodologies, writing well-tested code. New hires better understand the context of their work through self-directed training and make productive contributions more quickly by following established idioms. All team members are encouraged to suggest improvements that benefit the rest of the organization, particularly future new hires. Since all of the guides are public, a new team member can begin getting familiar with how 18F works even before their start date, if so motivated, and people considering whether they want to work at 18F can get a glimpse into our process.
Equipping digital service teams
Though these guides currently carry the 18F brand, the intention is to spread the use and cultivation of the material throughout the broader U.S. Digital Service effort. As new digital service teams launch across government agencies and existing teams seek to improve their current practices, the guides provide a government-endorsed vehicle for knowledge sharing and skills acquisition. The guides complement the Digital Services Playbook by providing teams detailed, practical advice on how to implement the plays. Though these other teams are welcome to fork their own copies and maintain them, we hope the innovations these other teams develop will find their way into the guides, to the benefit of all government teams using them.
Inviting input from the broader industry
By developing this material in the open, we hope to encourage expert review and contributions from members of the tech community outside of government, furthering our goal of improving how government works through increased civic engagement of tech specialists. We hope this material and the means by which it is developed will attract new recruits to 18F and the U.S. Digital Service in general, but for those who are not inclined to make the full commitment, helping cultivate the guides is a potentially high-visibility, high-impact contribution to government work that doesn’t require a major life change.
Though the guides are all still incomplete, in true agile fashion, we believe that by launching early and iterating we will incrementally build a strong body of institutional knowledge, one that supports the long-term health and productivity of 18F as an organization, and, as a result, the long-term health and productivity of the federal government. Visit 18F Guides now to peruse our current state and start suggesting and submitting improvements!