San Jose’s community approach to building digital services

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Amid the coronavirus pandemic, in-person interaction and community engagement have been extremely limited due to COVID protocols as more than one million San Jose residents now rely on city websites and social media platforms to access critical information and services. 

In an effort to bridge the city’s digital divide, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation has now launched a new digital services taskforce to help improve usability and foster homegrown tech talent. 

“We need to start thinking about good government means good digital experience and part of that is making it easy for our residents to access the information but also access what’s the most relevant to their current needs and their current interests,” said San Jose Chief Innovation Officer Jordan Sun. 

Sun tells KRON4 News this is part of the city’s larger efforts on getting the basics done right in product management and connecting resources with the people who need it the most. 

“That’s really the kind of mantra that we are taking when it comes to what we’re doing here with the digital services task force, it’s saying ‘look, we have a group of community-based technologists that are really close to the problem, they see it first hand in their lives,’” said Sun. 

“It’s really about building better practices for how we should do product management, good product management, good product design in government that drives innovation.”

The city has recruited its Digital Service Task Force to help source a community problem, emphatically study it, and design a solution. 

The fellows are San Jose State University students and recent graduates, fluent in Spanish, Vietnamese, Punjabi, and Hindi. 

“This is really part of, ‘hey look, we have this tremendous talent pool here inside of San Jose and as part of the largest city of Silicon Valley of all these great technologists, and technologists of color who study computer science or they study information systems,’” said Sun.

Over the next several months, the Task Force aims to launch a basic web app that will help connect young adults in San Jose to critical social services and other benefits they might be eligible for. 

But beyond launching an end-product, the city hopes the Task Force will create a platform to nurture the professional development of rising civic technologists in San Jose, provide product management experience, peer connections, and industry mentorship. 

“We really want to do everything we can to grow homegrown talent,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

“Those are the kinds of initiatives that are going to be critical for us in our economy in the future to make sure that we really have everybody on the playing field helping us to innovate because right now we got too many people standing on the sidelines and that is what is holding us back as a community.”

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