Technical writing as public service: working on open source in government

Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 from 3:45 – 4:30pm in B202/203


What if U.S. federal agencies decided to reuse and contribute to open source software projects built by other agencies, since agencies often have similar technology problems to solve? And what if they hired technical writers with open source community experience to write documentation for these projects? That would be pretty cool. Also, that’s my work. I'm part of 18F, a digital services consulting team within and for the federal government, and all of our work is open source.


I’ll explain surprising and rewarding aspects of working on documentation in government, through the lens of the cross-agency eRegulations project I’ve been working on. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau started it, our 18F team (in the General Services Administration) adapted it for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and we’re adapting it for use by two more agencies.

I believe open source software development with good documentation aligns with core values of our government: work by the government belongs to the people, so it should be as transparent as possible, open to input from the people, and reusable by the people. The implementation of those values is the complicated part, of course! I’ll explain how we get stuff done at both the big-picture level (how laws and government economics shape our work) and the day-to-day details (how we work across teams to get useful information online).


documentation, government, law, money

Speaking experience

I haven't given this talk before, but I'll be giving it at Write the Docs in May 2016 (!

Some of my speaking experience:

* A recent lightning talk on the draft federal source code policy: (March 2016, Write the Docs San Francisco meetup).
* Why it's important to learn about the earliest days of Wikipedia, for its 15th birthday celebration in January 2016: (slides with notes:
* "What is LocalWiki, and why is it so much fun? Let's edit it!", Open Source Bridge 2015 (description - - and video:
* "Civilizing IRC and forums: moderation strategies for mutual respect", Open Source Bridge 2014 (description - - and slides:
* "Strategies to Fight Documentation Inertia", Write the Docs 2014 (video: - and transcript:
* "Why I care about jailbreaking", JailbreakCon 2013 (video: - and transcript:


  • New headshot copy

    Britta Gustafson

    18F (General Services Administration)


    I’m a content designer for 18F, which is a digital services consulting team within and for the U.S. federal government. My job is a combination of technical writing, content strategy, piecing together bits of interface copy, and other ways of moving words around to improve software and processes. Our work at 18F is open source, so I get to bring my years of experience with open source project communities into government. In my personal time: I’m a member of Double Union (a feminist hacker/makerspace in San Francisco), I edit Wikipedia and LocalWiki, and I teach Wikipedia editing workshops.

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