City of San Jose’s Innovation Learning Lab

Client Need

CivicMakers facilitated our signature Learning Lab program, a hands-on learning and engagement experience for cross-departmental teams in public institutions, with the City of San José in 2020. This was our first Learning Lab conducted entirely virtually. The pilot was a unique collaboration between HR and IT, blending staff capacity-building (Human Resources) and San José’s OneCity Workplace intranet initiative (IT).

Our Approach

The inaugural cohort was brought together into three cross-departmental teams to learn about and apply human-centered design tools and techniques to a key City challenge. Teams were each assigned a unique challenge, including: How Might We (1) create an engaged and informed workforce, (2) optimize virtual productivity, (3) improve collaboration in a distributed workspace?

Project/Program Goals:

  • VALIDATE the OneCity Workplace premise and objectives
  • DEVELOP a new generation of leaders with an innovation mindset and the knowledge, skills, and abilities to identify and implement human-centered solutions
  • FOSTER a cultural shift at the City to embrace and encourage creative, collaborative problem-solving

Ultimately, teams and individuals experience and work through the human-centered design process, which is just as important as the resulting product/prototype. A Demo Day prototype could be anything from a redesigned internal process or procedure to a new way of communicating information to residents. However, ensuring that teams have the ability to experience the human-centered design process, a framework for creative, collaborative problem-solving, and apply it to their day-to-day is the ultimate goal.

When it comes to shifting mindsets and helping people to embrace change/innovation, we consider it critical that a training program be interactive, adaptable and practical. Human-centered design is complex and collaborative, which is why we design the program for teams with hands-on project work on challenges that they are currently facing. Our Discovery phase demonstrates to participants that we actually use the human-centered design process to train others by identifying the greatest needs and adapting our format to meet them. We also iterate on our design throughout to respond to real-time needs as they arise.

We value individuals and interactions, over processes and tools. A working product, over a detailed paper proposal. Responding to change, over following a fixed plan. Collaboration with people served, over building for them. To achieve this, we work closely with participants to support their learning and problem-solving to a point where they feel confident to move forward, as opposed to forcing arbitrary deadlines for them to move through the design process.


  • Institutionalized and socialized human-centered design in the City, both for individual participants and executives.
  • Identified three problem statements and project directions for the launch of the OneCity Workplace project, including an invite to participants to collaborate on next steps.
  • Prepared three presentation recordings that participants can share with managers to showcase their presentation skills and professional development.
  • Helped build relationships across departments to support collaboration.
  • Tapped into City technologies to introduce new tools and techniques for digital collaboration (MURAL & Sharepoint).
  • Successfully completed the pilot and acquired the green light for two more cohorts in 2021.


  • Client: City of San Jose
  • Dates: January 2020 to December 2020
  • Services: Trainings, Human-Centered Design, Capacity Building
  • Team: Judi Brown, Leah Tremblay-Adams, Marielle Olentine