So how can the civic coding community squeeze more productivity out of its limited technical resources? How can our organisations hold great big governments to account on a shoestring budget?
Those were some of the questions that ran prominently at last week’s gathering in Chile of the world’s civic coding community at PoplusCon. Introduced as a collaboration between MySociety, from the UK and Ciudadano Inteligente from Chile, the Poplus project helps to make the civic coding community more productive by providing re-usable code components that makes it easier to build the types of applications that the civic coding community needs.
The benefits are clear: by re-using code we can avoid duplicating effort across different organisations that share similar goals. That makes the whole community more efficient, and helps us punch above our weight when it comes to holding big governments to account. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work together, hence the need for the conference, where techies and non-techies could hash out what it is that we all need to get out of our collaborative efforts.
For us, the conclusions were unambiguous: if we are going to build re-usable components, then we need to make them really, really simple to use. Otherwise developers will tend to rather build their own custom solutions.
Simplicity here means two things: firstly, wrapping up the complicated, technical functionality of a piece of software into a simple interface (or API as our jargon has it), and secondly, hosting and maintaining that piece of software centrally.
This last part represents a fundamental shift in the way that Poplus components have been functioning so far, and in my opinion, it’s the thing that will “make-or-break” this push for collaboration that could be so valuable to our community.