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Case study: City of San Rafael Innovation Learning Lab

Infusing human-centered design into the City's efforts to modernize and encourage creativity

In 2017, we partnered with San Rafael’s City Manager’s Office to co-create a training program in support of their  “Together San Rafael” initiative, which is focused on modernizing city services and making San Rafael a great place to work. The Guiding Principles developed through this program aim at embedding an organizational culture that values creative idea generation by employees at all levels.


We began by helping to assemble an Advisory Committee made up of a diverse cross-section of staff across the organization asking them a simple question: “What do you want to learn?”

We worked with the Advisory Committee to identify baseline success metrics and methods to encourage employee engagement in the co-creation process.

Once we had the co-created curriculum for the Learning Lab, we continuously iterated on it based on participant input through real-time feedback gathering after each Lab and longer-term evaluation.


We learned from potential participants that in addition to learning human-centered design, employees wanted to practice giving presentations, storytelling, and some basic project management skills.

Past Learning Lab participants were willing to share their knowledge and skills with incoming participants, so we found places in the curriculum they could facilitate.

Through the discovery process and listening to employees, we learned that the training program was not just about developing human-centered design skills, but played a role in shifting the culture of the organization.


The pre- and post- evaluation surveys of the Learning Lab mapped to the Guiding Principles and allowed us to quantitatively measure culture change.

Over three years, we moved three cohorts of nearly 100 employees, from directors to public facing staff, through the Learning Lab and its co-designed curriculum.

To support socializing the Learning Lab opportunity across the organization, we created a communications plan, project messaging framework, and baseline success metrics.

This co-creation process allowed us to bring Learning Labs to two other cities and one state agency.

The work of the Learning Lab helped create a new department three years later. The department of Digital Service & Open Government actively uses human-centered design in its projects to continue bringing the Guiding Principles to life.

“Learning Lab created a culture change within our organization. A culture that is decoupled from tech and based on peer-to-peer, human-to-human feedback. This culture is translated into flexibility and adaptability in the workplace.”

Rebecca Woodbury Director, Digital Service & Open Government, City of San Rafael (former)