Designing for Civic Action: Code for America at UX Week

A path to civic action is often sparked by moments like these:

by Gary Rides Bikes via Flickr

Walking down a busy street only to realize your sidewalk is closed without providing a safe or convenient detour.

via New York State Department of State Division of Corporations e-Statement Filing System

Or encountering a government website that is only open during business hours.

by silent (e) via Flickr

Or waiting in line after confusing line at the DMV.

Via Akit’s Complaint Department

Or maybe the Muni bus door that tells you, while you step down, to push, press, and wait for the green light just to exit the bus.

Accustomed to grumbling and getting on with life (assuming you’re not still stuck on the bus in a panic) I’ve found people will jump at the opportunity to wear their professional hat and rethink some of the broken moments shared with local government and civil services.

The spotlight on these issues has been growing increasingly stronger, and there are many great examples of technology being used to solve civic challenges. And why not? Technology can do so many things so quickly. And attention from data scientists, civic hackers, activists, and transparency based political channels certainly brings a lot of validity and backing to the shift we’re looking for.

However, I fear that our presence as designers in this area has been a little weak. And it’s easy with all the shiny new possibilities to lose sight of this as a primarily human problem that needs to be solved by changing citizenship, and making “an app for that” will only get us part of the way there.

That’s why it was a great opportunity and honor for us as Code for America Fellows to be invited by Adaptive Path to host a workshop at UX Week following Jennifer Pahlka’s talk. The four of us – Angel Kittiyachavalit, Elizabeth Hunt, Sheba Najmi, and myself – created a crash course in Designing for Civic Action, and a simple challenge for our attendees to solve in the three and a half hour block of time. A huge shout out to them for providing the venue and chance for attendees to get into the trenches and really work on making the local government interface work better during their time at the UX Week.

We wanted to show them not only how important this role of making our cities better is, but how as UX designers what a rewarding challenge that can be. It was inspiring to present some of our everyday obstacles in designing for civic action to a group of other UX-ers and see how many great ideas came out of the working groups, and most of all the sense that these were important and rewarding issues to work on.

Props to my fellow fellows, Adaptive Path, UX Week and everyone who showed up to make it a successful and productive day.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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