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A Year of Deepening Our Practice

2019 Year in Review

2019 brought a number of exciting firsts for CivicMakers. We won our first city-wide strategic planning contract with the City of Hayward. We integrated human-centered design into program evaluation with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development. We collaborated with other firms to co-design a unique training for frontline employees at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency that blends safety, service and empathy.

Through all of this rewarding work, we continued to hone our practice and refine our unique contribution to the civic innovation ecosystem. We fortified our line of service offerings, including in the application of human centered design to strategic planning, change management and community engagement. We also learned which of our custom trainings resonated best with our public sector clients. In addition, we wove a throughline of design research across projects, adding more rigor and strengthening our capacity to measure impact.

As systems thinking remains core to our overall approach, we appreciated the opportunity to work in various fields that intersect and impact cities and their residents:

  • Economic Development
  • Transportation
  • Affordable Housing
  • Smart Cities & Digital Privacy
  • Urban Planning
  • Policy Implementation
  • Environment & Climate Change
  • Accessibility of Government Services & Digital Transformation
  • Public Arts

We are looking forward to where our team’s multi-disciplinary interests will take us in 2020. Some dream projects include strategic planning for climate adaptation, co-creating city engagement principles with residents, facilitating a large-scale/deeply-embedded innovation lab, and applying the civic council model to multi-stakeholder collaboration and decision-making.

Read on for more detail on what made us proud in 2019!

Projects That Made Us Proud

City-Wide Strategic Planning

City of Hayward

The City of Hayward wanted to create its first citywide strategic plan in order to align the priorities of City Council with the day-to-day efforts of staff. We started by facilitating Council’s yearly retreat where we co-created a compelling three year vision. With the participation of the City’s Executive Team, we boiled down that vision into six strategic priorities and then brainstormed specific projects that would accomplish each priority.  With a draft in hand, we held three public ‘pop-ups’ throughout the City to let the community provide feedback.

City of Hayward's Strategic Roadmap Wheel
City of Hayward’s Strategic Roadmap Wheel

Finally, the project lists were vetted with staff who used their subject matter expertise to refine and ‘right-size’ the projects to existing capacity and resources. We are proud to announce that the Strategic Plan was unanimously passed by City Council! The result is a direct line-of-sight between Council’s overall vision, the community’s preferences, and the daily work of staff.

Not only does Hayward now have a roadmap to the future, but many stakeholders were instrumental in its formation, improving their commitment and buy-in. As we always say, the process of strategic planning is just as important as the product.

“CivicMakers was a great partner with the City of Hayward in preparing our first Citywide strategic plan that was unanimously approved by our City Council. They were exceptional at responding to the City’s needs, preparing graphically attractive deliverables, and collaborating closely with the City Council, employees and community members. We would definitely work with CivicMakers again.”

Jennifer Ott Deputy City Manager, City of Hayward

Program Evaluation + Service Design

SF Office of Economic and Workforce Development

The San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) sought our support in conducting the first ever evaluation of SF Shines, a storefront improvement grant program for local small businesses and nonprofits. Our human-centered approach included deep stakeholder engagement (via interviews and codesign sessions with staff, program participants, and vendors) and service design tools (like system mapping and user journeys) to create a 360 degree view of the program’s strengths, challenges and opportunities.

We ultimately helped the City bring to life two significant recommendations of the evaluation (a user guidebook and mechanism for ongoing program evaluation), in collaboration with program participants, by testing drafts with small business owners and iterating based on their experience.

This project has been exciting for us and our partners at OEWD because we were able to move quickly from evaluation into ideation and testing. This represents the magic of conducting impact evaluations that lead to actionable recommendations and truly designing with (and not for) program participants. We’d love to do more of this!

“The CivicMakers team went above my expectations to conduct a meaningful program evaluation and to help set up new systems to ensure we can continue improving the program. The team took care to truly understand our program, the program’s clients and their needs, ensuring the inclusion of diverse stakeholders to brainstorm program changes and new directions. They are a thoughtful, passionate, fun, dedicated, and capable team.”

Darcy Bender SF Shines Project Manager, San Francisco Office of Economic & Workforce Development

Learning Labs

City of San Rafael, CalVCB

The City of San Rafael won the California Cities 2019 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence in Internal Administration for Together San Rafael – a collaborative initiative that includes the Learning Lab concept we have been co-creating with staff since 2017. This “learn-by-doing” program gathers cross-departmental teams to learn and practice techniques for collaborative problem solving. Read all about the Learning Lab at the City of San Rafael on their website, and check out City Manager Jim Schutz’s lightning talk at the League of CA Cities City Manager Conference.

Thanks to the amazing partnership with City of San Rafael, CivicMakers is beginning to roll out Learning Labs with other clients. In 2019, we trained five teams of 35 participants at the California Victim Compensation Board in the theory and practice of human-centered design. The teams worked on challenges related to user needs; internal processes and procedures; internal communications; external communications and data collection and analysis.

This year, we have launched Learning Labs with the cities of Walnut Creek and San José. We are building these out into a fully-formed product offering with room for the unique context each client brings, including:

  • More tailored capacity building/adaptive curriculum
  • Cross-departmental collaboration and teamwork
  • Ongoing coaching, workshops and practice
  • Fostering a culture of learning and experimentation

We look forward to sharing what we learn this year!

“Setting aside my personal experiences, biases, frameworks to try to empathize with others.”

– CalVCB Learning Lab Participant 1 (speaking on what they found most valuable)


“Engaging with CivicMakers has given me a language and a framework to express ideas that I have been passionate about for years.”

– CalVCB Learning Lab Participant 2

Trainings & Workshops

In 2019, we hosted more client-sponsored trainings than ever before, a total of 18 (not counting the Learning Labs mentioned above). Introduction to Human-Centered Design continued to be a popular request, which we brought to clients like California Health and Human Services Office of InnovationNapa County and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Other topics included Presentations & Storytelling, Facilitation/Train the Trainer, Building Effective Teams, and Human-Centered Change Management.

We also had the opportunity to participate in some meaningful collaborations in curriculum design. One included our good friend, Andy Krackov, and his firm, Hillcrest Advisory, in the co-design of a three day Presentations & Storytelling training for the Information Security Leadership Academy at the California Department of Technology. We may have learned more from the participants than they did from us!

Another collaboration took Judi all the way to the Western Balkans for a five-day training on digital transformation and collaboration with teams from MontenegroAlbaniaBosnia-HerzegovinaSerbia and North Macedonia. Judi co-created curriculum, traveled and co-facilitated alongside experts in public sector innovation from all over the world! Check out this ten minute documentary to see us in action with a cadre of inspiring innovators.

In addition to training, we facilitated eleven different workshops across California and even Minneapolis! Some, including User Journey Mapping for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and Community Visioning in the City of East Palo Alto were part of our multi-year partnership with FUSE Corps. We also facilitated an interactive session with our friends from CHHS Office of Innovation at the 2019 Data Expo. Watch for some of the post-its we collected from 200+ participants in this talk from newly minted Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, about leveraging data to improve service delivery throughout the state.

2019 in Impact

It wouldn’t be a year in review if we didn’t have some hard numbers to assess our impact. Here’s a smattering of measurement from 2019:

  • Worked in 22 locations (including Montenegro!)
  • Worked on 30 projects, with 26 clients
  • Shared 20 LINKS newsletters with 3,716 subscribers
  • Hosted 6 events (465 attendees/sign-ups)
    • Civic Mornings on Wise Democracy with Tom Atlee
    • Lunch & Learn on Change Management in Education with Sam Franklin
    • 5th Anniversary Party! @ SF Design Week
    • Civic Mixer @ Code for America Summit
    • Culture Stack Design Jam @ Code for America Summit
    • “How Might We?” Unconference @ AGL Summit
  • Hosted 2 Public Trainings
    • Human-Centered Community Engagement
    • Human-Centered Strategic Planning
  • Participated in 20 speaking opportunities (5 with academic institutions) including the National League of Cities, International Association of Public Participation, UC Berkeley, Stanford and Presidio Graduate School
  • Gained 2 wonderful team members, Victor and Marielle!
  • Became a certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise in San Francisco!
  • Celebrated our 5th anniversary of civic impact!

Team Reflections

We believe in the power of reflective practice, so here are a few pivotal moments for our team:

We grew our team! We’re so happy to welcome Victor Tran, Junior Communications & Engagement Associate (pronouns: he/him) and Marielle Olentine, Operations Specialist (pronouns: she/hers) to the CivicMakers family.

We learned together! The whole team attended the Code for America Summit. Check out our team reflections here. Leah had the opportunity to attend Creative Reaction Lab’s Equity-Centered Community Design Bootcamp. We invited our friend and Director of the Innovation Office with SF Human Services Agency, Marc Hebert, to facilitate his team’s “Equity is…” card game with us so we could learn about how to more effectively exercise equity in our company. Judi and Jim each attended a training facilitated by our collaborator, Bill Say, on diversity in facilitation and process work. Cristelle learned from the City of Charlotte, Boulder and others at the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) conference, where she also had the opportunity to share our human-centered community engagement model as a conference session.

While achieving this much impact in a year with a small team is no small feat, we are committed to growing our skills and feeding our curiosity with more events, trainings and conferences. Where should we go in 2020?!