SF “Public Voice” Civic User Testing Program

Client Need

San Francisco is undertaking an effort to design services that are easy to use and accessible to all. This requires including residents and clients in the design and development process.

The City turned to CivicMakers to create a new program, Public Voice SF, that allows any San Francisco department or agency to connect to a diverse group of community members, collect real-time feedback, and use the input to improve City services. CivicMakers led the demonstration program of Public Voice SF, which included initial design research, outreach and marketing, coordination with community-based organizations and local agencies, facilitation of the research sessions, and establishment of program baseline metrics, and program evaluation.

Our Approach

To begin, CivicMakers consulted with other municipalities running successful civic user testing initiatives to help inform our design. We simultaneously conducted outreach to diverse community-based organizations across the City and used this to inform the design of a broader marketing and outreach strategy. By developing close relationships with community organizations and understanding their needs and the needs of their users, we were able to identify how they might benefit from participation in the program. Based on this input, we designed a community outreach and marketing strategy that spoke directly to our target audience. We were also able to provide requested one-pagers, FAQs, and flyers to help our partners help us with recruitment.

The initial demonstration phase consisted of user research and user testing with services from different departments across the City and County, including the Municipal Transportation Agency, Ethics Commission, Office of Short Term Rentals, and the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. During the demonstration phase, we engaged over 100 community members to provide input on City services, including small business owners, disabled and deaf residents, and members of the Cantonese and Latinx communities.


  1. Foundational program elements, including brand, messaging, recruitment website, and outreach templates
  2. Coordination of the design of user tests and research for agency products
  3. Ongoing recruitment of a diverse range of San Franciscans
  4. Facilitation of user tests, interviews, and observational research
  5. Compilation of results into a final report on the demonstration phase with recommendations for long term viability as a city service, including resourcing, staffing, and funding


  • Client: City and County of San Francisco Digital Services, Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, Department or Technology, and the Committee on Information Technology. Made possible with funding from Microsoft.
  • Dates: November 2016 – June 2017
  • Services: Program design, community engagement, evaluation, user research
  • Team: Lawrence Grodeska, Cristelle Blackford, Judi Brown, Molly Curley O’Brien