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Making sense of Washington’s tech landscape

The U.S. Digital Service family Photo by Daniel Shea for Fast Company

We often get asked to explain how 18F fits in with the larger U.S. digital services family. While we’re all working to improve the way the federal government builds and buys digital services, 18F, the U.S. Digital Service Headquarters team (USDS), and the digital teams inside various agencies are tackling this problem from different angles and with different goals.

The cover story in this month’s Fast Company offers a great metaphor to better explain the relationship of all these digital teams.

What the designers of this effort actually want to create is something more dynamic—in effect, a technology ecosystem that long outlasts their stints in government. In that regard, you might consider Washington’s tech landscape, as it currently exists, as a kind of brown and barren field. And on that field, consider each agency as having a fenced-in plot of land. The USDS works now as landscape architects—the ones who design what kind of trees and plantings will go in each plot, and who will do the work. The people at 18F function like a nursery and ­contractors—they’ll provide the healthiest trees and do the plantings, either on their own or via someone they trust. They’ll even teach you how to be a good gardener. Meanwhile, the tech teams at agencies like Education and Veterans will take what USDS and 18F advise to make their plot flourish.

The overarching goal here is to get everything to grow together—very tall, very fast, inevitably joining up into a forest canopy so as to create a functional and interconnected system.

Learn more about our mission and the projects we are working on in the Fast Company article.