In a Day’s Work: San Francisco Companies Roll Up Their Sleeves on Civic Challenges
On a sunny Tuesday morning this past June, close to 100 San Franciscans gathered at 826 Valencia’s Tenderloin Center. This wasn’t the Center’s usual crowd of teenage authors, poets and creatives, but instead an equally impressive mix of civic-minded designers, brand and communication strategists, management consultants, public servants, advocates, and policy experts. They had all been invited by the City of San Francisco’s Office of Civic Innovation (OCI) to apply their diverse professional skills to a set of urgent challenges facing City staff.
At one table, Hugo Ramirez from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) described a new law guaranteeing the right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction to a team from the design software giant Adobe.
“If the activists who helped craft and pass this law were here, they would probably say it was very important to build an identity around the idea of the ‘right’ to counsel. They really pushed for ‘rights-based’ language in the ballot measure, as opposed to just “universal access,” Hugo explained. Another MOHCD team member helped clarify who might be most in need of information about these new legal services: “From the counseling perspective, we often see that monolingual speakers of Cantonese, Mandarin, and Spanish need better information about their rights and services available.”
By the end of the day, the MOCHD and Adobe team delivered the foundation of a communications plan that will ensure tenants throughout San Francisco know about their right to a lawyer in eviction proceedings.
At another table, a project team assessed the costs and benefits of a first-in-the-nation program to use school gymnasiums as temporary shelters for families experiencing homelessness. This team was a collaboration between the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the SF Unified School District, Dolores Street Community Services, and Civic Consulting USA. One volunteer noted the personal impact: “I live in the Mission, so I’m really appreciating the chance to work on something close to home and to figure out how to be a better community member in that place.” The Dolores Street Community Services Executive Director, Laura Valdez remarked,
Our hope is that with the help of Civic Consulting USA, we’re able to identify key indicators that we want to track to demonstrate our success and value as the first school-based family shelter in the nation in a public school. And hopefully that demonstration of our value will make it possible to scale and replicate the model not only here, but across the country. A great value has been that it’s a cross-sector collaboration — and now adding the private sector today, with Civic Consulting USA we are able to tap into a wealth of expertise and resources that we typically would not be able to.
Six blocks away at the Tenderloin’s nonprofit Glide, a team of City staff from San Francisco’s Office of Workforce and Economic Development (OEWD) and the design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK brainstormed a community-focused, safety-first makeover for the sidewalk outside Glide’s front doors. They worked by sketching directly on photos of the street and the buildings lining it, the energy in the room palpable as neighbors and volunteers eagerly wielded sharpies. A community member told the room, “We used to have a mural on this building that was painted by children in the community. We want to do a mural on the back of our building, that backs up to the park.” He held up the photo. “So, it would be the history of Boeddeker Park, with the dance hall, Father Boeddeker emerging, etc. It would speak about both the past and the present.” As community members and HOK volunteers shared ideas, staff from the city helped clarify what was possible, and what could happen quickly versus what would take more time. “Let’s think about easy wins and long term vision,” one person commented. HOK is continuing to work with OEWD and the community members to pilot the winning idea on Ellis St.
These were only two of the ten high-priority civic challenges buzzing and being diligently worked on across the room. The projects varied greatly, and included:
Iterating on the Successful Civic Bridge Program
OCI has run its successful Civic Bridge program for five years. The program allows skilled volunteers to donate 20% of their work hours over 16 weeks, working alongside City staff on some of the most pressing city challenges. Since the founding of Civic Bridge in 2015, the OCI team has run five cohorts resulting in 49 projects, and worked with 25 city departments and 23 unique pro bono partners. Those partners have given over 24,400 hours of their time, worth an estimated $3.9 million in fair market value. But the Office of Civic Innovation wondered, could we be doing even more to leverage this impact? Civic Bridge was ripe for iteration and more innovation. Hence the creation of the Day of Service, an eight-hour version of the 16-week program that challenged teams to maximize their impact in one working day.
The OCI team considers the program to be a great success, as this new model allowed eight new companies to join the Civic Bridge family. New partners included AECOM, Blue Shield, Cloudera, HOK, Mapbox, Slack, Twitter, and Zendesk, as well as returning partners from Adobe and Civic Consulting USA. The one-day commitment was a great way to engage new companies with a low-barrier entry to getting involved with the City. Most importantly, the impact for each project was tangible, creating benefits for staff across City departments and the communities they serve As a small but mighty team, OCI is continually creating new and better ways to improve city services and engage residents from across sectors, building collaboratively for the City as a whole.
As one volunteer put it best:
For me, [Civic Bridge] is a very good opportunity to actually engage in how the city works and become a more responsible [resident]. This is about not putting off the responsibility of “someone else needs to fix it”, which is not the right attitude, but actually getting your hands dirty, to understand the challenge and help fix it. You have to get in and get your hands dirty and collectively solve the problem. It’s not that the public agencies are not able to do it without private sector help, Civic Bridge is just about colliding people with different perspectives to help bring about creative solutions. This is not about the private sector coming to save you, not at all, the public agencies are the leaders and we are just here to provide a different perspective.