A New Office Integrating Design, Technology, and Policy for Local Government

The City of Austin has launched a shared approach to user-centered design, iterative technology development, and collaborative policymaking through its Office of Design & Delivery, which has grown to include over 25 experts in service design, interaction design, content strategy, web development, and agile product management. Through cross-disciplinary teams spanning design, technology, and policy, their teams have improved outcomes in public safety, public health, and digital transformation.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

How do you use design and technology to improve outcomes in local government? A lot of energy and excitement has been put into this challenge over the past five to ten years, with mixed results. The City of Austin founded Austin's Office of Design & Delivery as a new approach to this challenge, purposefully leaving "technology" out of the name of the title, and emphasizing "delivery," as that's what the City found public servants to be hungry for: innovative solutions that actually deliver.

The City's "odd" office has six core principles at the heart of everything we do (also available in more detail at odd.austintexas.io/how-we-work):

1. Put residents first
Start with residents, not technology. Connect with the community about their needs and expectations, and test and refine solutions with residents.

2. Prioritize equity when planning features & functionality
Seek equitable outcomes when improving workflows and technology across city departments to ensure the needs of residents are truly being met.

3. Recognize that digital services require teams and competencies, not just software
Support research, design, delivery, and integration with expert teams and by empowering non-traditional designers and technologists.

4. Cultivate a community of learning
Cultivate learning opportunities for civil servants and residents across disciplines, departments, and sectors.

5. Champion iterative, data-informed methods
Adopt an agile approach to technology and workflow design that uses prototyping, testing, and iteration to learn and improve over time, rather than "redesign".

6. Support vendors that can prove value to residents
Choose software one piece at a time, and avoid contracts that lock us into specific solutions, contractors, or vendors. Default to open source.

The office is organized into three core areas – a Service Design Lab, modeled from the Service Design Studio in the NYC Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity (and built in collaboration with NYC), a Policy Lab whose initial focus is the user-centered policy for accessibility in the digital era, and the development of alpha.austin.gov, providing iterative, user-centered digital services that grow and adapt with resident needs.

To date, the Office of Design & Delivery has designed, prototyped, and delivered new services for Austin's Office of Police Oversight, Office of Public Health, Office of Homelessness Strategy, Department of Watershed Protection, Office of Sustainability, Resource Recovery, Municipal Court, Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, and Parks and Recreation. This rapid growth is a function of its cost-recoverable funding model, allowing the office to quickly grow with demand for its services from departments across the city, and the development of an active recruiting and hiring pipeline from Austin's thriving design and technology sector.

Throughout this work, the team has invested in the continual support and buy-in of the larger organization, leading "funshops" to train staff on the fundamentals of content strategy and sponsoring the "Civic Futures Awards" to highlight the work of changemakers throughout the organization. https://civicfutures.io/awards

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Year: 2018
Level of government: Local government


  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity
  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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