Innovating democracy and democratizing innovation

Jennifer Pahlka on making government services more accessible by starting with the user.

By Jennifer Pahlka
June 14, 2019
US Supreme Court US Supreme Court (source: skeeze via Pixabay)

User-first design is a ubiquitous concept for the technology and devices we use in our personal lives, but it’s largely unheard of in government services design. Code for America is aiming to change that. In this presentation, Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, talks about how we can innovate democracy and why we need to democratize innovation.

Highlights from Palka’s presentation include:

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Government services design traditionally starts with policy; the user doesn’t come in until much later in the design process (if at all). Pahlka says government innovation requires a strategy reversal: “this is really what we’re asking people to do when we ask them to innovate in government–we’re giving people permission to start with the user. From there, we can build digital service delivery. From there, we build operations that meet those user needs. And really, from there we get to policy and even law and regulation that meets those user needs. And then you create wonderful feedback loops. (06:27)

The word “innovation” lends an unwarranted air of mystique that seems insurmountable to most people, says Pahlka. You don’t need to be Steve Jobs, she points out — innovation can happen by making a web form more accessible and usable, or by finding new practical applications for your organization’s data. “We need to make innovation something everybody does,” Pahlka says. (8:32)

To truly democratize innovation and get people on board with a new way of doing things requires moving the Overton window. Innovation shows what’s possible, Pahlka notes, ultimately “making the old thing unthinkable and making the new thing completely acceptable. We’re trying to move that Overton window because that’s how people will come along.” (10:45)

Post topics: Innovation & Disruption
Post tags: Radar Event