Journey Mapping Our City’s Permitting Process

Matt Lavoie
Jun 1, 2017 · 9 min read

During the National Day of Civic Hacking 2016, our team took on the problem of journey mapping the fence permitting process. We chose this project because it’s relatable and simple. Although, it isn’t quite as simple as we thought.

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“Have you ever filed for a permit?”

Matt Broffman, the Director of Innovation for the City of Orlando asked us.

Matt Broffman and Alex Nicholas researching fence permitting.

It was the morning of the hackathon and we formed a team to craft a journey map of a city process. The problem now was to figure out which one.

As we discussed options, we knew we needed to pick something straightforward. Our hope was to find a relatable and relatively simple process. And it needed to be one where we had enough domain knowledge to create an accurate journey map.

What is a journey map you ask?

A journey map is a visual representation of the experience an individual goes through when interacting with a service. It can help build empathy, bolster a common understanding, and fuel the generation of ideas for improvement.

The larger vision for this project was to introduce the idea of journey mapping as a tool to our city. The hope for this particular map, and any others the city might create, is for employees to view a process or service from the viewpoint of the citizens they serve. Thus enabling them to gain perspective of the entire process, build empathy with those customers, and identify potential for improvement.

Pulling a permit, it turns out, can be a long and complicated process. As we discussed further we realized we needed to settle on a more micro view. We settled on the journey of a homeowner wanting to build a fence on their property.

We chose to narrow the scope to this particular problem for two reasons. We had limited domain knowledge on hand, and this journey seemed more relatable and easier to empathize with.

Before You Begin

One of the most important parts of working on a journey map is having a cross-functional team. This enables you to look at the journey from each relevant perspective. In an ideal world, we would have had citizens who have filed for permits, contractors, permitting office employees, and even someone from a hardware store participating in this project.

Fortunately, we did have Natalie and Matt from the city join our merry band of designers. If not for their domain knowledge, we wouldn’t have been able to accurately represent this journey.

How might you engage with people from your city? A great way is at events like the National Day of Civic Hacking or at monthly Code for America Brigade meetups. I recommend getting engaged with your local brigade, if you aren’t already. That said, onto the journey mapping!

Step 1: Identify

The first and most crucial step in the journey mapping process is to get the process down. I recommend utilizing post-its for this process.

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Identifying all the possible user actions within the fence permitting process.

Bring your cross-functional group together and start at the beginning. Think about your customer’s journey and add a post-it to the wall for every action they take. As every step in this journey comes up, write it down on a post-it note. Make sure every step is on its own post-it, and organize them in a linear manner so they flow with time.

If you come across forks or alternate paths, don’t worry. Now isn’t the time to filter yourself. Get every single possible step down. You can always edit later.

Step 2: Refine

Faced with a wall of post-its can be daunting, but have no fear. Now is the time to switch from a generative mindset into edit mode.

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After a few hours of reorganizing post-its, we arrived at this refined journey map.

Remember, the end result should be a journey map to provide value for your organization. It might be good to challenge what you have on the wall with a few questions.

1. What journey is most important to communicate through this artifact?

There may be irrelevant actions up on your wall. Or perhaps they’re actions employees take rather than actions the customer takes. These are interesting and can give context, but try to focus only on your customer’s actions at this stage.

You may also have pieces of the journey you don’t need to include in this journey map. These are things outside of scope or irrelevant to this story.

2. What fidelity are you working in?

This is one of the most challenging decisions in a journey map. How detailed are you going to get? Since journey maps should cover the entire journey, it’s important to generalize some things. Sure, you will lose some detail, but if you include it all, no one will be able to process the whole journey at once.

3. Do you need to illustrate all paths, or can you focus only on the most common?

It’s almost guaranteed that you will find forks in your customer’s road. Sometimes they will do A, other times B. What do you do?

Well, there are ways to show many possibilities. This map for the Rail Europe experience done by Adaptive Path is a great example. Other times parts of the journey are outliers, and including them may not be necessary. You may also decide to illustrate forks in the decision tree or common exit paths throughout the process as we did. Either way, remember your audience and the objective you have for creating this map.

4. Is there anything you’ve missed?

The refinement process is a great opportunity to check in with other SMEs throughout your organization, or even customers themselves. Asking, “Does this seem right?” can be extremely enlightening and open your team up to blind spots.

For this project we didn’t have the luxury of time, but for other journey maps I’ve worked on, we’ve sometimes stayed in this stage for months.

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Step 3: Lunch

Take a break. It’s important to step back from this sea of post-its and let your mind process and digest. For our hackathon, we wrapped up step 1 and 2 before lunch, so the timing worked well for us.

Step 4: Design

It’s now time to design the presentation of this information. Who is your audience? How are you trying to help them with this artifact?

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Our team worked on a whiteboard to design the journey map before we began on the final product.

As you ponder these questions you may start to form a vision of what this artifact could look like. You may also want to sketch out an example slice of the journey with the team to get buy-in for the design.

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Sketching out ideas to effectively communicate the journey.

Make sure you are considering best practices of information design. You have mechanisms to present all the information you want. You may present only the journey, or you might see benefit in adding more. A written story can explain stages, emotional highlights and illustrations can help build empathy, and highlighting internal processes can aid in building context.

For our journey map, the team considered dimensions including the Touchpoint (pamphlets, website, city hall), Step Owner, Artifacts, Iconography, Emotion, User Goals, Time, and Expectations.

It all depends on the outcome you are trying to achieve. I would strongly recommend examining other journey maps for inspiration.

Step 5: Craft

This is the hard work. Once you’ve decided on a design, recreate your post-its in this framework. Again, the goal is to make it easy to digest and hold in your head in a single view.

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Alex Nicholas and Chase Tramel working on the crafted journey map.

Remember, the point of a journey map is to create “a visual representation of the experience an individual goes through when interacting with a service.” If you can’t process the entire journey in a single view, it becomes more difficult to “build empathy, bolster a common understanding, and fuel the generation of ideas for improvement,” which is the outcome we are after.

Of course, you can include ancillary data a viewer wouldn’t process from four feet back. There are many creative ways to add information a viewer can dive deeper into. Just remember, they need to be able to step back a few feet and process the journey as an end-to-end experience.

What now?

It’s time to share! I recommend posting your journey map in a public space at your organization. In fact, you get bonus points if you worked on it in a public space as well.

For this hackathon, we gave the journey map to the city and Natalie actually brought it to the permitting office where they hung it on their wall!

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Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Tim Johnson, Permitting Services Division Manager, showing the journey map on the wall in the Permitting & Code Enforcement Office.

I had the opportunity to stop by the permitting office and see it in its new environment. While there, I also spoke with a few city employees to learn from them what they have gotten out of it.

One interesting takeaway was their surprise at the accuracy of the journey map, since we created it without their involvement. They also mentioned some discrepancies between their digital and in-person process, which become more visible with this journey map. I’m excited to hear conversations are happening around how this experience could improve, and how they might educate citizens about the digital options available.

“Where’s the next one? Are you working on another?” was a popular question, which is actually a fantastic idea.

The concrete next steps I recommend is to identify a pain point in the journey map and create a service design blueprint localized to this part of the journey. With this tool, we can create a present state blueprint to identify current cumbersome steps in this process. Then, we’d craft a future state blueprint to illustrate what the process could be and the steps to take to get there.

I invited the folks from the permitting office to join in for the next National Day of Civic Hacking, so hopefully we will be able to accomplish even more working with them.


Over time your customer’s journey will change. Hopefully this will be due to investments made to improve the experience for them and the employees who serve them. Once changes happen, updating your journey map will help you to continue to keep the customer’s full experience in mind.

Your Turn

Hopefully this article has inspired and equipped you with the knowledge to begin a journey mapping project of your own.

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We learned a lot and had a great time working on this journey map.

While this tool is effective for any product or service, I hope you will consider collaborating with your city and local Code for America brigade to build one for a city process. Journey maps can be an amazing tool to help employees understand the full experience of the citizens they serve and create new opportunities to improve the process for everyone.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this project. Our hackathon team included Natalie Bednarz, Matt Broffman, Diane Court, Alex Nicholas, Chase Tramel, and myself. Extra thanks to Natalie for digitizing the journey map and bringing it into the permitting office. Also, thanks to Code for Orlando for hosting the hackathon. And finally, a huge thank you to everyone at the City of Orlando, especially the permitting office, for receiving our work with open arms.

📄 You can download a fully digitized PDF version of our Fence Permitting Journey Map.

💬 If you are working on a journey mapping project and need some help, feel free to reach out on twitter.

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