Increased Design Focus Key to Philly Tech Consolidation

After the successful creation of a new city website built with sophisticated human-centered design methodology, City Hall is now looking to apply the lessons learned to other projects across agencies.

by / November 22, 2019
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Philadelphia recently built a new website centered on users, and it was that process that ultimately sparked a recent consolidation wherein one tech-adjacent office folded into another, city officials said Friday.

Last month, Philadelphia’s Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT) folded all staffers into a pair of other departments, those being the Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) and the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). As part of the consolidation, the city also moved to hire additional UX designers and content strategists. Stephanie Tipton, Philadelphia’s acting chief administrative officer, said the success and maturity of the new website, Phila.gov, really drove the move.

Basically, with the website now standing as a monument to what can be done with design expertise in local government, officials wanted to align the design expertise from the ODDT with that of other departments, thereby taking a more efficient and concentrated approach to spreading it through city government. Moving forward, Tipton said, this will likely mean designers spending time working in other departments to help them take the website’s same human-centered approach to service delivery and policy implementation, ultimately engineering new projects across the city.

Liana Dragoman, director of strategic design within the office of the CAO, said bringing human-centered design expertise and cultural emphasis through a concrete ask like a new website is a common development within cities. Now that their colleagues across the city have seen the practice deployed to improve the city’s website, they’ll be aware of how it can help their own work too.  

From the OIT’s perspective, getting new design expertise is part of an ongoing transformation taking place in city halls across the country, too, one wherein IT departments transition from doing entirely back-of-the-house support work, to creating public-facing innovation projects that help cities better serve residents, said Andrew Buss, Philadelphia’s deputy CIO for Innovation. 

In addition, the OIT office has now promoted Eliza Pollack to Director of Innovation, Pollack announced this week on Twitter. Pollack has been engaged in helping to spread innovation culture and practices throughout city hall for sometime, most directly doing so by heading up Philadelphia’s Innovation Consulting program. As part of that program, she ran workshops that helped other departments take innovative approaches to challenges they face.

“At the end of the day,” Tipton said, “both our office and the CIO are really focused on how to make government work better, more efficiently, and more effectively with a stronger focus on resident needs.”

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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