This profile was prepared when Jennifer Pahlka was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Jen is anchoring a significant and timely culture shift in city governments that will inspire them to be less hostile to innovators and innovations and increasingly able to harness agile, open source technologies that add huge value and cut costs. Jen’s entry point is a Fellows program that matches 3 to 5 person tech teams with cities that compete for the resource. The teams pair up with their city governments for eleven months, during which time they assess needs and design low-cost tech solutions that can be shared with other cities facing similar challenges. With the Fellows program now in its second year, Jen and her team have begun other engagement strategies aimed at three important groups: (i) innovators who work for city governments (ii) open source champions and coders across the country who want to organize their own efforts as “brigades” and (iii) start-up entrepreneurs who can introduce competition and out-compete current, clunky vendors who charge a premium and lack a driving aim to improve government. Taken together, these reinforcing strategies will reboot government and usher in a lasting culture change that brings better design and functionality the government-citizen interface.