Digital profile: Jennifer Pahlka


The team is excited to profile talented figures with wide-ranging experience in the digital landscape. Read on to learn about Jennifer Pahlka, acclaimed business leader and political advisor.

A new approach to modernization

Delivering services that work for everyone in B.C. means modernizing the way we create, design and maintain our programs and products. But it’s not just about adding a technology component to our existing ways of working — it’s about changing the way we solve problems, organize our teams and measure results.

Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and former U.S Deputy Chief Technology Officer under President Obama, focuses on empowering governments and public sector organizations to embrace new approaches to service delivery.

When government culture, structures and systems have taken root, it can be difficult to move beyond certain practices or siloes to deliver what people need in effective and modern ways. Jennifer uses her experience, candor and a direct approach to highlight and fix the processes holding government back.

Government as a platform

Following a career in technology media, Jennifer founded Code for America in September 2009 to make the dream of “government as a platform” a reality, advocating for data-driven participation, collaboration, transparency and efficiency in government.

The organization began by innovating the structure of partnering city halls, embedding small startup teams to support government projects in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Seattle. Teams of fellows from Code for America demonstrated to these cities how user-centered, iterative and data-driven approaches (rather than a compliance-focused approach) can more effectively meet people’s needs.

As U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer, Jennifer started the United States Digital Service, a new branch of the federal government created to help implement digital priorities like Today the USDS employs hundreds of technologists and advisors using design to deliver better digital services.

At the same time, Jennifer continued to lead Code for America as it improved digital services for state and local governments through direct partnerships. By working in the open, those partnerships also served as aspirational examples for non-participating governments. The organization has continued to empower and transform the public service following her departure in 2020, with projects like the non-profit Clear My Record service which helped to clear more than 100,000 outdated cannabis convictions from criminal records in America.

During the COVID-19 emergency, Jennifer continued to make government legislation and policy work better for people through United States Digital Response, installing technology volunteers in state and local governments to tackle the new and emerging challenges of the pandemic.

In her own words

Most recently Jennifer has become a prominent author and speaker in addition to her ongoing advocacy for bottom-up, citizen-led government. Her book Recoding America was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2023 and calls for foundational modernization to achieve the policy outcomes people need.

You can hear more from Jennifer on The New York Times’ Ezra Klein Show or NPR Illinois, watch her 2012 TED talk Coding a better government, or keep up with Jennifer online via her website.

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