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Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation

BY DESIGN: Transforming public sector services I Overview

“If we can better connect policy improvements to on-the-ground service delivery processes and tools, then we can be more effective in holistically enhancing the public’s experiences with City services.”
— Anjali Chainani, Director of Philadelphia Mayor’s Policy Office and GovLabPHL

About the speaker series

Throughout 2017, the City of Philadelphia in collaboration with the University of the Arts Design for Social Impact Program will host lectures and panels open to City of Philadelphia employees and the public entitled BY DESIGN: Transforming public sector services. The series will explore the role strategic design—which includes service design, human-centered design, design thinking, design for social impact, and inclusive design—can play in creating more dignified, equitable, and accessible end-to-end government services.

wide-range of leading-edge U.S.-specific case studies will be examined—demonstrating how strategic design has been used to improve affordable housing application processes, to explore connections between opiate use and jail overcrowding, to increase access to services for Veterans and their advocates, to reorient government around the needs of its constituents, to craft more accessible government information systems, and to challenge the cycle of poverty by designing holistic, empowering cross-sector financial services.

In addition, the series will make progress on answering the following questions:

  • What does public sector strategic design look like in practice and what role can it play in transforming government services for the better?
  • What can the private sector learn from public sector service design inventiveness?
  • How can massive, complex government agencies reorient around the needs of the public—delivering more dignified, accessible, and equitable services?
  • What is the relationship between strategic design and organizational change?
  • How do participatory design methods encourage cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration that results in empowering government services?

This speaker series is funded by the City of Philadelphia with a grant from Living Cities and support from the University of the Arts Design for Social Impact Program.


The public sector service design ecosystem is rich with insight. Local, state, and federal governments within the United States have become more design-driven in their implementation of policies, programs, and services. Government-supported design offices at the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Veterans Affairs, 18F, and the United States Digital Service (USDS) as well as the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation and GovLabPHL have been developing more people-centered public sector services. Nonprofits like the Public Policy Lab, universities including University of the Arts Design for Social Impact Program and Parsons DESIS Lab, foundations, and private sector companies are collaborating with governments to improve service delivery through a strategic design lens as well. And the movement is global. Governments in Australia, U.K., Finland, and Denmark—to name a few—have been co-designing services with community members, policymakers, and advocates for some time.


BY DESIGN: Transforming public sector services seeks to:

  • Convene diverse stakeholders and cultivate a cross-sector conversation in Philadelphia around the power of strategic design to yield dignified, accessible, equitable, and effective services.
  • Build an awareness and understanding of strategic design and why it’s a valuable and necessary approach when tackling new and old public sector design and policy challenges.
  • Present leading-edge case studies that clearly demonstrate how strategic design has been applied, adopted, and sustained across levels of government—successfully.
  • Grow a community of practice—comprised of policymakers, design professionals, academics, community members, public servants, and advocates—who are willing to experiment with the breadth of strategic design methods to improve public sector service delivery.


City of Philadelphia: GovLabPHL

GovLabPHL is a multi-agency team at the City of Philadelphia, led by the Mayor’s Policy Office. GovLabPHL’s mission is to enhance City policies and services through cross-sector collaboration and pilot projects by using evidence-based methods, such as behavioral economics and human-centered design, to improve the lives of all Philadelphians. GovLabPHL organizes knowledge-sharing opportunities for and with City employees.

Currently, participating agencies include the Department of Revenue, the Managing Director’s Office, Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation, and the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity.  During the 2016 – 2017 years, GovLabPHL is focusing on organizing trauma-informed customer service training, a human-centered design speaker series, and a conference with the Philly Behavioral Science Initiative.

City of Philadelphia: Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation

The Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT) collaborates with departments, the public, and a wide-range of stakeholders—employing human-centered design methods—to create dignified, equitable, and accessible digital services that support the success and well-being of all Philadelphians. In addition, ODDT works with departments to publish open data.

City of Philadelphia: Innovation Management Team

The City of Philadelphia’s Innovation Management Team collaborates across agencies and institutions to develop innovative practices both inside and outside of government.

University of the Arts: Design for Social Impact

The Design for Social Impact Program prepares graduate students to become leading agents of social change, instrumental in fostering strategic creativity, organizational learning, and community engagement. The program promotes a social design process that facilitates collaborative projects across disciplines, and that produces actionable models and scenarios to create sustainable change. Students learn to balance ecological, social, and economic values in the development of innovative solutions.