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Case study: CA Health & Human Services Knowledge Sharing Platform

Shaping a knowledge sharing solution for state-wide stakeholders

California Health and Human Services (CHHS) wanted to find a way for diverse users across a wide range of needs to share how they were leveraging data to improve service delivery across the state. Staff weren’t sure what the right solution was, but knew they wanted to directly engage stakeholders to inform the end product, so we initiated a service design project to help.

A Co-Design session to validate personas developed as part of our discovery process.


We first identified stakeholders through the 11 departments and five offices that make up the California Health and Human Services agency, along with our own network of civic technologists throughout California. Then we developed a discovery process that would help us understand what these stakeholders needed to improve communication and collaboration amongst advocates, practitioners, subject matter experts, and government staff who were using data to improve health and human service delivery. Through over 40 interviews and two co-design sessions, we better understood the intrinsic motivations and unique needs of the various stakeholders who represented a variety of backgrounds.


One of our co-design workshops allowed for stakeholders to validate the “personas” we developed as an effort to segment the diverse needs of those who might use the platform. Personas are representations of a particular group of users. This session allowed us to iterate and test our own assumptions about their respective needs.

The project team, including us as facilitators, imagined the platform would be named the Data Commons. However, stakeholders participating in the many engagement activities favored calling it 1849 Collaborative to truly make it their own. This was one of our first lessons in practicing non-attachment to our own ideas, and letting the process guide the product.


Through the co-design workshops, we engaged universities, local health agencies, nonprofits, media outlets, and volunteer civic technologists in a collective process to envision a knowledge sharing platform that would address some of their pain points for exchanging information with peers. Based on these insights, we developed service principles, a feature roadmap and technical plan for the development of the platform.

While the 1849 Collaborative did not move much beyond a working prototype of the platform, the relationships built across stakeholders through the process sustain to this day. Additionally, staff’s exposure to the service design and the personas developed through that process furthered early innovation efforts at CHHS, including the creation of an agency-wide office of innovation.