OneSJ: A community-built platform for youth & young adults to discover mental health services
For us, by us
What if we could harness the ingenuity and authenticity of community technologists to help address the youth and young adult mental health crisis in San José?
Our young people are suffering from a severe mental health crisis; even before the pandemic, a 2021 UCLA study found that nearly half of California’s adolescents had experienced psychological distress. These figures are not just numbers; when our students conducted their interviews to validate their own lived experiences, we recognized that mental health ranked as the number one concern of young San Joséans.
As part of the inaugural Digital Action Corps (formerly known as the SJ Digital Services Task Force), the Mayor’s Office of Technology & Innovation (MOTI) brought together four talented San José State University students and recent graduates to build OneSJ — a digital platform for pointing young folks in our community to relevant mental health services.
We’re also not the only U.S. city that has 1) local tech talent and 2) youth and young adults looking for ease of access to mental health resources. While software alone cannot solve our neighbors’ mental health issues, we can make it easier for them to know where to get help. MOTI’s mission remains focused on leveraging technology to improve the livelihoods, opportunities, and city experience for our residents. We look forward to sharing our Digital Action Corps’ journey.
What did we learn?
Let residents pick a problem to solve that is most authentic and pressing to their own experiences.
The team operated under pandemic conditions and therefore needed to learn how to self-organize, communicate feedback, and understand each other’s strengths and interests quickly as complete strangers. They were able to do this while still building a minimum viable product (MVP) because of 1) the problem is authentic to our corps’ own lived experiences from peers and family members, and 2) they all recognized this is painful enough in the community that it requires a better solution than what’s currently out there. Ultimately, this also helped us avoid the pitfalls of feature creep and overextending the MVP, so that we can launch and start testing for product market fit (PMF).
Just launch and learn to ask for forgiveness later. Along this journey, we came across many pitfalls and jumped through many hoops, including how to access services data, how we should host the site, what backend to choose from, what other services should we include, and design and accessibility conversations. In the end, we realized that if we kept building and doing 1:1 “show and tells,” we’re never going to get the raw feedback from the world of just launching what’s “good enough” and see how the product can serve our community’s needs.
Ask for help and be open to feedback. As a small team, we quickly learned how important it was to ask for help through the process and to never build in a silo. We are humbled by the support we received from our partners, including:
- CARTO for their platform to power OneSJ
- BayAreaCommunity.org and unBox for providing us access to services data and helpful design considerations
- Bill Wilson Center for helping us understand the mental health provider landscape in Santa Clara County and key challenges facing the community
- Code for San José for insights on building for accessibility
- Google.org, PayPal, and SAP.iO for providing strategic mentorship and hands-on tactical feedback on product management, design, and engineering
- Our residents who shared their own pain points with us and tested our alpha versions.
We are City Hall’s Venture Studio
This is Team MOTI’s first foray into building and launching software products from the Mayor’s Office with community technologists as part of our Building Better Basics Smart City Vision.
As City Hall’s Venture Studio, our team takes on three key tasks:
- Ideate, explore, and validate problems facing our community, whether we discover it, or it comes to us from a resident or city partner
- Take the solution 0–1 and find signals of PMF
- And if we achieve PMF, then we decide how best to sustain, scale, and spin out to the larger enterprise (i.e. City Manager’s Office, nonprofit, or another external partner)
Stay tuned as our Venture Studio has more exciting announcements throughout this summer to come in our data science initiatives as well as software that we’re building to improve city-resident experiences.
Take Action & Get Involved!
For this MVP launch, we’d love to hear from you on:
- How can OneSJ be improved (new features, design improvements, bug fixes, content updates, etc.)?
- How can we form strategic partnerships on OneSJ’s evolution, with care providers, community organizations, and other stakeholders?
- How can we help you form your own community technologist capability inside your city/county/state?
- What other issues would you like to work on?
- Want to flex your skills and experience in tech and do good for others?
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM on Twitter @sanjosemoti to reach us. Once again, a big congrats to our SJSU team who pulled this off, and please connect with them 😉