A Year of Tested Resilience

2020 tested the resilience and reliability of human-centered processes. What does it look like when we can’t be together? What remains valuable when our priorities are upended and needs are urgent? Reflecting on 2020 revealed that our efforts to maintain connection to people by the simplest of interactions led to some of our most creative and meaningful work.

It’s been encouraging to hear the same from others in our community. A client recently shared how our past Learning Labs prepared their city for the pandemic:

“I must say, pandemic has turned our job into a continuing learning labs experience. Thanks for preparing us to meet this challenge, for real!”
– Henry Bankhead, Assistant Library and Recreation Director at San Rafael Public Library

As we validated the agility of human-centered design, we were still challenged with reimagining how to meet our clients’ most pressing needs. We leaned into our process, interviewing clients and holding community ideation sessions (e.g. COVID-19 and Anti-Racism community meetings; Reopening Local Government and Local Government Learning & Collaboration ideation sessions with ELGL), to inform the design of relevant Online and Remote Services.

Shifting our focus to what was ‘essential’ gave us the opportunity to grapple with ever-widening disparities around inclusive engagement. Remote facilitation has enabled us to convene in new ways and respond to new constraints, as illustrated by this quick pivot to a virtual community meeting early on in the pandemic. We’ve also continued parallel efforts to improve accessibility of digital services through our work with San Francisco Digital Services, helping them to connect to vulnerable or underrepresented populations through our partnerships with community-based organizations. One of our project outreach partners affirmed the importance of this work:

“As a Black woman, SF Native, small business owner, and leader of a community-based organization, it’s important that there are opportunities to hear the voices of the community when making adjustments to city response efforts that will directly affect us. I like reaching deep into my networks to influence these decisions.”

In our new virtual reality, we’ve continued to hone our skills in convening and facilitation, taking every engagement and meeting as an opportunity to expand our capacity to hold space and generate tangible outcomes, even while remote. We shared our learnings in a new Online Facilitation training and with a publicly available Online Facilitation Toolkit.

Optimism and reflective practice are a part of the CivicMakers DNA, and we’d like to take this opportunity to reflect and share where we’ve deepened our practice, and where we’d like to go next.

Projects That Made Us Proud

  • Engaged in critical challenges facing the Bay Area and California by:
    • Conducting our first COVID after-action assessment with the City of West Sacramento.
    • Winning our first project connecting workforce development services to people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.
    • Leading our first affordable housing community engagement with the Santa Clara County Housing Authority.
  • Watched our first citywide strategic plan approved by the City of Hayward and began supporting three other cities on their strategic planning efforts.
  • Adapted all our scheduled trainings to accommodate virtual or socially distant participation, including:
    • Co-designing COVID-conscious in person training for public-facing SFMTA employees, to continue sharing practical communication tools for safety and service that will ultimately impact ~2,500 employees.
    • Supporting the City of Berkeley in onboarding employees citywide to a new Enterprise Resource Planning system and many co-designed process improvements.
    • Conducting our first entirely virtual Learning Lab with the City of San José. Our pilot was such a success that we are returning to facilitate two more in 2021.
  • Branched into video production to produce 14 software training videos for the City of Berkeley and 10 community engagement videos for 3 separate clients including, 4 engagements “events” and 3 translations
  • Continued partnerships across multiple service offerings, such as:
    • Entering our third year of human-centered design training for the California Department of Technology’s Information Technology Leadership Academy.
    • Celebrating two years of supporting the San Francisco Digital Services team in designing and running an equity-centered public research program.
  • Contracted with 7 members of our community to bring in their valuable expertise in facilitation, translation, communication design and the homelessness response system!
  • Supported 7 community organizations to help extend outreach efforts and offer paid testing opportunities for their constituents.

What We Hope to Do (More Of)

Our Year in Review wouldn’t be complete without some dreaming! Here are the areas we’re reaching for in 2021:

  • Host more Learning Labs, our signature learn-by-doing introduction to applying innovation methodology to shared challenges in municipalities and state agencies!
  • Continue to break down silos and deliver more effective government services through thoughtful and inclusive system design.
  • Co-design local guidelines for equitable public participation through a community-driven process.
  • Co-create a Climate Action Toolkit with community members on the frontlines of climate change to support a more equitable, adaptable and resilient future.
  • Integrate more scenario planning and system thinking into our strategic planning projects to help the public sector cultivate more adaptability and resilience.

Looking Forward

Within the tumult of 2020, we refortified ourselves. We deepened relationships, we offered each other grace and validation, and we carved pathways to do more challenging and interconnected work. This is reflected back to us each time our partners place trust in the process, and lean into community and collaboration to face uncertainty.

For CivicMakers, the way forward looks like leveraging our local networks; enriching and expanding stakeholder engagement services; and applying systems thinking at every level. As we deepen our practice, we’re eager to continue sharing the questions we ask and the insights we gather. Be sure to look out for our updated website in 2021, where we will share more stories about our projects and partnerships, as well as resources and reflections on how we aim to make our work as meaningful as possible.

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