Mayor Launches ‘Civic Design Lab’ to Make Government Services More Effective

New lab uses participatory approach known as service design, working alongside residents and other community leaders to collaboratively improve government services

Oakland, CA Mayor Libby Schaaf, Citi Community Development, and 100 Resilient Cities announced the launch of Oakland’s first Civic Design Lab, an innovative department that will help solve age-old bureaucratic bottlenecks and make city government more accessible for residents and employees.

Using design strategies, the Civic Design Lab team will approach some of the city’s oldest problems in new ways to find solutions that will make Oakland city government more resilient. Civic Design Lab is rooted in the idea that government simply cannot spend its way out of challenges, such as housing displacement. The City of Oakland is approaching its work differently and rethinking how it maximizes limited resources to benefit our communities more equitably.

Already, the Civic Design Lab has redesigned the city’s online Rent Adjustment Program portal to make it more user-friendly for both tenants and property owners, improved the Healthy Housing inspection process, and streamlined partnerships between city programs and entrepreneurs who are working toward equitable economic growth in Oakland.

“The Civic Design Lab can redesign our government to make it a more responsive city government for all Oaklanders,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “If we want different outcomes in our city, we need a fresh set of eyes, a nimble team, and a compassionate heart to solve problems in creative new ways.”

The Civic Design Lab is an innovative approach embedded in Oakland City Hall that grew out of the three-year, community-led Resilient Oakland initiative supported by 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation. It was launched with support from founding corporate partner Citi Community Development, which also recently supported the launch of a service design studio with the City of New York. The Civic Design Lab is dedicated to training government staff and making public services for Oaklanders as effective and accessible as possible, by applying human centered design process and systems thinking to public sector problems.

“Every employee is a designer at heart,” said Alexandra Lee, Civic Design Lab’s Creative Director. “And every resident wants an efficient, meaningful, experience when they engage with government. We are focusing on the human experience of those exchanges, and letting that guide us to develop a new approach.”

By putting people first in every project that Civic Design Lab takes on, the City of Oakland has committed to ensuring that our public servants, civic leaders, partners, and community alike have the right processes for decision-making, as well as the right tools to respond to 21st century challenges.

“Local government provides vital services to Oakland residents every day, especially those who are financially vulnerable,” said Vicki Joseph, Northern California Market Director for Citi Community Development. “The Civic Design Lab offers a collaborative, rigorous and inclusive improvement process for public services for Oakland residents.”

“Cities are on the front line of dealing with acute shocks and chronic stress. Oakland is part of a group of cities leading the way on resilience to better prepare for, withstand, and recover more effectively when disruption hits,” said 100 Resilient Cities President Michael Berkowitz. “The Civic Design Lab is an incredible example of engaging stakeholders in urban governance, and putting their priorities first. This launch event is a clear indicator of a resilience movement not only embraced by all levels of community, but one poised for creating great impact in Oakland.”

Future potential projects for the City Design Lab include a revamped Summer Youth Jobs Program and a Financial Justice project.

To learn more about the Civic Design Lab, visit

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