Providence, R.I., Launches Its New Municipal Identification Card Program

The card, which is available to any resident over the age of 14, can serve as proof of identity and residency, making it easier for its holders to engage with city departments and other services.

Providence, R.I., has launched a new municipal identification card program in the hopes of making city services more inclusive while promoting community pride, city officials said.

The program, which was established through an executive order from Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and dubbed IDPDV, officially launched at the end of June after city staff and developers spent months working with members of the community to conceptualize and create it — an effort dating back to August 2017. The card costs $5 for applicants between the ages of 14 and 17 or over the age of 65, and $15 for residents between 18 and 65. Once issued, the cards are valid for three years.

The cards can be used as forms of identity or proof of residency when interacting with any city departments. Holders can use it as a library card, too. They can also get discounts at a number of facilities and business throughout Rhode Island, with the city actively working to add more to the list.

Theresa Agonia, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, said that taking a user-centered approach was crucial to developing the card and its functions, with a meeting early in the design process proving especially helpful. More than 100 residents attended.

“It was that community meeting that really helped drive the bus in creating the program and finding out what’s important to our residents,” Agonia said. “I think that’s why our program will be successful in the city. From that moment on, we’ve been out there meeting with constituents about this.”

One thing the city focused on when designing the card was ways in which it could provide residents with benefits that other forms of identification do not. Providence has a large immigrant population, with 30 percent of the city being foreign-born, and now its residents can obtain the ID by displaying documents such as international passports, driver’s licenses and consular cards.

Unlike some other forms of identification, the card also allows holders to select from four choices in the gender category, including male, female, non-binary, and prefer not to disclose.

In keeping with the human-centered ethos that guided the development of the card from its start, Agonia said the city did a soft launch earlier this year, after which it collected feedback to improve the system. This process helped the city create paper and online applications with questions that were easy to both answer and understand.

Providence also learned from the example of other cities who had created similar programs, including New York City; Richmond, Calif.; and relatively nearby New Haven, Conn. The city, of course, had its own set of state laws to navigate, but Agonia said the other jurisdictions helped clue it in on best practices. One particularly helpful partner was New York City, which had an online card application process that Providence mirrored. Providence is the first city in Rhode Island to create such a program.

The development of the card program, however, is ongoing with future plans calling for the public transit authority to integrate bus passes sometime next year. The city is also working to give all of the roughly 7,000 students in its public school system a card, as well as to add more businesses to the list of establishments that offer related discounts.

The ease of obtaining the card is, of course, significant, especially in an era when barriers are being scrutinized so heavily at the federal level, with a push to reduce access to public programs for certain populations.

Another important facet to Providence’s program is the heavy role that human-centric design has played in shaping it. This card program, and others like it, is part of an ongoing trend across the country, wherein services are being designed with users at heart, rather than the needs of institutions and governments.

Chicago also recently used human-centric design to create its own city ID card program.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine