How is Silicon Valley Part of the Inequality Solution?

How is Silicon Valley part of the inequality solution? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director at Code for America, on Quora.

Inequality is a very visible problem in Silicon Valley. We have incredible wealth and incredible poverty side by side. This is of course true across the nation. Part of the solution is making the $470B we spend nationally on government safety net programs work better, and our contribution to that is bringing "Silicon Valley" practices of starting with users and iterating rapidly based on user data to the delivery of the safety net. Of course, these are widely used practices that are not specific to any geography, but they are characteristic of tech startups, so it's a convenient if imprecise term.

For example, our GetCalFresh program starts with a better way to apply for food stamps: from a mobile phone. Instead of 45 minutes or more to apply, our users get through in about 10 minutes, including uploading their supporting documents. Once they've applied, we follow up by text and document the many barriers users face: letters they receive after the date by which action is required, requests for unnecessary documentation, failed communications, and on and on. Our government partners can't see the failure points in the system, so they are eager for the insights into how they can improve. They're amazing at actually fixing the problems once they can see them!

This is a basic play that works on other government programs as well:

  • Acquire users by making dramatically better online applications to government programs.
  • Follow our users via text message and document the administrative barriers they face.
  • Work with government to use the data to fix operational problems.
  • Get better outcomes for users and lower the costs of administration.

If we (and others) can do this for more and more government programs, that half a trillion dollars we spend trying to keep people in our communities from falling into persistent poverty could help a lot more! This is Silicon Valley tactics helping create an effective safety net!

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