Engaging citizen developers

A software documentation framework for open source government projects

Project year
Project role
UX and front-end development
Project team
Clinton Dreisbach, Mehgan Iulo

The CFPB believes that public data should be easy to access for government transparency. It’s a major reason why we release open source software.

Design + Dev at the CFPB wanted to learn what it would take to create a call-to-action to nerds everywhere to serve their country from behind the soft glow of their computer screens.

I worked with the API’s architect to develop a framework that has since been widely adapted as the gold standard for software documentation in government.

Designing the docs

I drew on my previous teaching experience to design documentation that facilitated learning, instead of just being someone's brain dump.

Learning the basics

Practicing with examples

Learning by doing

Getting into the weeds

Usability testing with Github

I reached out to developers in the Washington, D.C., tech industry and asked them to give us feedback on our first pass.

They liked how they could hit the ground running with the API, but looking up details was easy to do too.

But nothing is perfect. We made a commitment to improve the docs, using Github to log all usability issues. It keeps us accountable, and allows the open source community to contribute or implement solutions.

Open source government

Since publishing the documentation for the HMDA API in early 2014, our project has been forked by other government agencies. Whether it has transformed Word doc-based documentation into usable, findable information, or allowed our cousins at 18f to stand up their own projects more efficiently, the CFPB's docs framework has become the cult favorite for publishing software documentation.


The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act

When it comes to working with data, people are ultimately interested in the story it tells. Some people want to hear those stories, while others want to tell them.