A community approach to building digital services in the Mayor’s Office
By: Clay Garner
It’s no secret that American local governments struggle to provide good digital experiences for their residents. Whether you’re looking to apply for a permit or find the nearest free meal distribution site, confusing and sometimes clunky public apps are the norm. But a bad user experience isn’t just inconvenient — it could be the difference between someone getting fed or going hungry. This information asymmetry also erodes trust in city hall.
Good government means good digital experiences.
In a pandemic that limits in-person interaction and community engagement, many of our more than 1 million residents now rely on city websites and social media platforms to access critical information and services. For people on the wrong side of San José’s digital divide, including those experiencing homelessness, this period has exacerbated inequities around internet quality and device access — making simple, light-weight solutions all the more crucial. Not everyone in Silicon Valley has the latest smartphone or reliable broadband.
In the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, we’ve been exploring how to catalyze better digital experiences for San Joséans. Can we get the basics right in product management? As a first step to addressing this challenge, we’ve recruited a Digital Services Task Force to help source a community problem, empathetically study it, and design/iterate a corresponding solution. Our fellows are San José State University students or recent graduates, fluent in languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Punjabi, and Hindi, and passionate about using their technical skills and creativity to serve the community. Over the course of several months, the Task Force aims to launch a basic web app that will help connect young adults in San José to critical social services and other benefits they might be eligible for.
Beyond launching an end-product, we hope that the Task Force will become a platform to nurture the professional development of rising civic technologists in San José — providing product management experience, peer connections, and industry mentorship.
Thank you to Task Force members Floriberta Sario, Kunwarpreet Singh Behar, Justin Mata, and Angela Pham for your willingness to brave ambiguity and give back to the community.
Clay Garner is Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Sam Liccardo.