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Case study: California Health & Human Services Office of Innovation

Human-Centered Design trainings for a new state innovation agency

When CA Health & Human Services (CHHS) created a new cross-division innovation team, we were called to help inform the design and implementation of a training program for staff. Our previous project work with CHHS gave the agency the confidence in our application of human-centered design.



We began by interviewing staff about their goals for the new innovation team, and the needs and current skillsets of staff who would be joining. We integrated insights from the first cohort into the curriculum design of the second cohort to demonstrate how we use human-centered design to continuously improve.

We continued to refine our facilitation style of being willing to leave emergence within our curricula and find protected time where participants have the opportunity to learn from each other.


We co-designed a curriculum to train cross-departmental teams listening to the learning objectives of participants, conducting pre- and post evaluations, and iterating to respond to emerging needs.

We were part of a thoughtful, thorough curriculum with other experts we respect in the space, including CivicActions, SMALLIFY and Aspiration Tech. We learned what resonated for participants with their unique offerings in civic innovation tools and techniques.

We learned from meeting again with the first cohort six months after the initial training what tools they used, and what worked or didn’t work in terms of sharing the human-centered design process with other departments. One important learning was departments were more receptive to calling certain engagement activities “focus groups” instead of “workshops.” Using familiar language helped them gain trust.


Created custom curriculum for two trainings across four full days that provided an introduction to human-centered design (HCD) in the public sector and applying HCD to organizational change management.

37 people total from two cohorts were trained. They went on to work with 12 departments and with the Governor’s Office on 31 engagements over the course of two years.

The engagements resulted in the following outcomes:

  • Reduced the time to admit patients into state run facilities by two-thirds
  • Reduced violence in medical facilities by facilitating cross discipline workshops and policy labs to test efficacy of proposed changes
  • Redesigned the Cannabis licensing process to focus on applicant needs
  • Combined three cannabis programs search sites into 1 focused on business intelligence
  • Built a tool to support CA Health Corps in 1 week and refined over 3 months into a complete deployment and hours management system
  • By avoiding costly rework we delivered improvements weekly for fractions of the typical cost

“CivicMakers transformed their pioneering interest in civic tech into the vision, knowledge, skill, and grit to help government agencies do incredible things they could never do before.”

Chaeny Emanavin Director, Office of Innovation, California Health and Human Services (former)