New 18F tool serves as blueprint for digital teams

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18F, the digital services team based in the General Services Administration, has launched an open repository of best practices gathered from its project teams.

The tool, called 18F Guides, aims to help new hires get oriented to the organization and current team members learn about ongoing projects. So far, 18F has created guides on topics like agile development, accessibility, open source, application programming interfaces and automated testing.

“Whether you’re inside 18F and joining a new project or whether you’re coming into 18F for the first time, having materials like this really does lower the bar in terms of trying to ramp up and get started and making productive contributions,” said Mike Bland, the practice director of 18F and a former Google engineer who’s been leading the charge on this idea since joining.

Outside 18F, though, the guides could serve as a blueprint for agencies rolling out new digital services teams, Bland wrote in an 18F blog post. “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.”

“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to use this as a vehicle to share information, not just from 18F to these other teams that are trying to get started, but the other way too,” Bland told FedScoop. “If they encounter solutions or develop solutions, they can contribute back to the repository.”

In his budget for 2016, President Barack Obama requested $100 million for digital services teams in 25 of the largest federal agencies. Already, these teams are popping up in agencies like the Veterans Affairs and Transportation departments.

“In a way, serving 18F internally is also an external function, because we are kind of being promoted as a model of how to do software development in the government,” he said. “Everything we do that is inwardly focused benefitting just 18F, we’re still doing it out in the open for the express purpose of saying, ‘This is how we do it, and perhaps you can do it this way too.'”

The guides also serve as a tool to preserve the work of digital experts after they leave — at 18F, staffers often stay for two-year terms or less. By documenting “institutional knowledge,” the guides make it easier to update a software or process when their creators are long gone, Bland said.

And for the nonfederal citizens interested in shaping the way these digital services teams build software and other tools, 18F has opened the guides to the public to collaborate as well.

“That’s always been the dream: to have a government that is able to foster more active participation from its citizens, and so this another small offering in that space,” Bland said.

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18F, Agencies, Citizen Services, General Services Administration, Government IT News, Innovation, Mike Bland
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