Last year, I read Jim Birch’s blog post outlining his Aaron Winborn nomination of (now) award winning Kevin Thull. As a community, we need to do our best to celebrate accomplishments and I love that this award exists. We need to tell more of our stories regardless of who gets the award. I see no reason not to share my nomination for this year’s award publicly.
Contribution takes many different forms. Our community recognizes many aspects of contribution, but I believe the spirit of the Winborn award is to “think bigger”. Community members find creative ways to have impact well beyond just commits. My nomination tries to honor this with two primary criteria: contribution and impact.
I would like to nominate Nikhil Deshpande and Kendra Skeene. Yes - two people. But, they have been an inseparable force that has greatly impacted the community.
Why? They own, recognize, and prioritize their collective purpose. They serve citizens through the Digital Services in State of Georgia. Everything they say and do, every investment made, every email sent is focused on the needs of all citizens or to better empower those serving citizens. Nikhil and Kendra emphasize the need for research, data, and analytics to drive citizen-first initiatives in usability and accessibility. They approach their roles with empathy. These efforts are pioneering in the public sector -- helping modernize offerings throughout the State of GA and set a model for other organizations in the public sector.
And, they primarily invest in open source technologies. Drupal serves as a vehicle they adopted to deliver many of their digital services. Their efforts have had a major impact to the Drupal community and beyond. Their team has led efforts that have pushed innovation in our community. “Ask GeorgiaGov” connects conversational interfaces like Alexa to Drupal. The State’s Open Data portals integrated rich data visualization libraries through dashboards built from the Drupal distribution DKAN. They invest in projects and hire agencies in our community to help their team. This subsequently creates jobs and new opportunities for community members. Agencies are asked to contribute back to the community as much as possible, ensuring their investments are able to be used by everyone.
What is the impact of this effort? Drupal, as a product, has innovated in new and novel ways. The tool is better able to serve all people. The Drupal community is better sustained, especially those that prioritize giving back. Other digital agencies in the government look up to and model their efforts, which drives even more impact for our community. And, people throughout the world, especially the citizens of Georgia, benefit from their refreshing investment in forward-thinking innovation.
This impact has received wide praise and their approach has spread. Nikhil and Kendra are routinely recognized  and speak at both community and public sector events. They are thought leaders that advocate for their “citizen and open source first” approach.
Preston So, Director of Research and Innovation at Acquia, captures this perfectly in the following quote:
Nikhil and Kendra, and the entire Digital Services Georgia team, have been instrumental not only in advocating for open source across state and local government but also in fostering innovation in the Drupal community. Thanks to the forward-looking vision the Digital Services Georgia team has articulated over the last few years, we at Acquia Labs were able to hew to our mission of encouraging open innovation by contributing back to and maintaining the Alexa module available for Drupal 7 and 8 today. This integration has inspired governments and organizations the world over. But it is Nikhil and Kendra's commitment to open source and deep understanding of our community that truly shine a spotlight on their efforts to lock open governments worldwide and make open source just as much a first-class citizen as the Georgians they serve with devotion every day.
Both Nikhil and Kendra have done amazing things for our community and opened up new opportunities in the public sector. Imagine the scale of potential impact they would have to our community if even a few more agencies follow their lead. I thank you both for the example you’ve set, your contributions, and for leading the way in this area.