Eve Bills Lacivita

Finding more purpose in 2023: a conversation about volunteering

U.S. Digital Response
U.S. Digital Response
9 min readJan 3, 2023


A casual chat with Eve Bills Lacivita, a volunteer with U.S. Digital Response
By Barbara Niveyro

Eve Bills Lacivita is a purpose-driven professional who has helped many organizations in the for-profit and non-profit sectors develop new strategies, programs, and products that measurably improve outcomes for beneficiaries. She is also a volunteer at U.S. Digital Response (USDR) as a product manager.

To kick off this year, we spent some quality time speaking with Eve. We discussed various topics that involve working in civic technology, like innovation, STEM education, and design research. For reading purposes, our dialogue has been edited. We hope you enjoy it!

Barbara Niveyro: Hi Eve, thank you for taking the time to chat with us and share your experience with U.S. Digital Response. Can you tell us about your professional background?

Eve Bills Lacivita: I’m a longtime product and strategy lead. I’ve spent most of my career in the industry and have primarily a SaaS background. So I actually started out in hardware, but the reason why I became a product manager is that I really like making change for human beings and making an impact. I also have a long history of working pro bono in the non-profit space and particularly helping nonprofits with programming and strategy development. I’ve combined those two worlds into what I do now, so I established a consultancy that works exclusively with nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations and helps them develop new strategies, products, and programs that have strong human-centered approaches so that they can create better outcomes for those they serve.

BN: What led you to civic tech and social innovation?

EBV: I’ve always been very purpose driven. I went to school intending to work in international development, and I kind of fell into tech by accident. And then proceeded to spend pretty much every role I had for the next 20 years trying to bend it back to the purpose-driven and social impact space. For example, when I worked at Motorola, I was the only person who was super excited to work on the low-tier, inexpensive phones because they were designed for emerging markets. They weren’t just, you know, a rich man’s toy. They were actually the difference between poverty and being able to make a living in places where there isn’t or wasn’t landline infrastructure.

And then, about 12 years ago, I got very involved in the nonprofit space, helping develop strategy and programming, particularly in areas of economic and educational equity. I eventually decided to stop parallel pathing these two worlds and made them one as my full-time focus. The civic tech space is particularly rich and has so many amazing people working in it, taking techniques that have been exclusive to the for-profit world and bringing them into the government space, helping make a difference there.

“I realized how rich the civic tech space is, and how many amazing people are working in it, taking techniques that have been exclusive to the for-profit world and bringing them into the government space.”

Image by Eve Bills Lacivita — UX Customer Research

BN: How would you define innovation and what is necessary to achieve it?

EBV: Innovation is an act, is the act of finding new ways to meet and exceed human needs, but doing it in a very purposeful way. Is a creative act and is both art and science at the same time, which is one of the things I love about it. You can be very deliberate, you can be very rigorous, you can be very quantitative in how you approach it, and that’s necessary. But also so is that creative side, dreaming big about what people want and figuring out the way to get there is a part of it as well. I talk a lot about falling in love with the problem and not the solution. Solutions at the end of the day are disposable because you’re trying to solve a human problem. When you solve that problem, then the solution can go away.

“Innovation is a creative act and is both art and science at the same time.”

BN: How do you balance analytic skills with being creative? Because I feel that sometimes one might limit the other.

EBL: From the science perspective, you need to stay pretty rigorous about what that needle is. Am I moving it? How do I know I’m moving it? What are the signals I’m looking at? Creativity comes from what are the different ways I could imagine moving that needle, how I explore them, and then how I test them. So, you know, getting super creative and out of the box about all the different ways that you could move that needle, and then getting super scientific about how to narrow on the most effective way of moving the needle.

“Every project starts with learning. That’s based on human research, understanding the person and the customer journey.”

BN: How did you connect with the U.S. Digital Response?

EBL: I was learning what was out there and a number of people said “if you want to learn more about civic tech, USDR is a volunteer organization with a great reputation and you can get involved in some really interesting projects”. So after the third person mentioned it, I decided to check it out.

BN: And these days, what are your main responsibilities at USDR?

EBL: I’ve been acting as the product manager and product lead on a project to help close the digital divide. Essentially the project is designed to help people find affordable internet and close the divide by making it possible for them to have very inexpensive fixed wireless access at home, which is a huge barrier for people in finding jobs and doing their jobs and getting access to services.

BN: What could you share about the project and the team?

EBL: It’s a front-end project. It’s all design. The team that’s been working on it is myself, as the product manager, and two designers, one of them is also a coder. We’ve really been focused on UX, so much of our project has been based on how we actually validate decisions with users and make sure that what we’re handing off to the partner really works for human beings before it gets handed off for development.

BN: And what about the tools that you’re using?

EBL: We used fairly simple tools for design and prototyping — Figma, HTML, and CSS. Project management tools like Airtable & GSuite for tracking.

But the “special sauce” of this project was in HOW we did it. We embraced “outcomes over outputs,” starting from the end state, and worked backwards. Our biggest challenge was ensuring that the new website didn’t just improve visually on the prior website, but that it actually solved the user problem. We wanted to confidently deliver on the promise of helping people find the most affordable internet access they could.

So we focused a lot initially on first understanding what success looked like, and set a “north star” metric of 90% of users being able to find affordable internet and accurately describe the next steps to take to get the service. All design and prototype efforts were oriented to that “north star”. Then, at key points during the prototyping, we ran observational usability tests with the end user cohorts to check on their ability to find what they needed.

We also expanded our scope a bit — the intent was to do purely front-end, but we ended up doing some design for the back-end databases to be sure that the intended logic would actually work!

As a working team, we had multiple skill sets among the three of us that really lent themselves to collaborating in a human-centered way — visual design, UX design, accessibility design, research, coding, a little bit of logic & database knowledge, and project management. Those skills gave us the ability to draft promising UX to deliver the “north star”, rapidly prototype the front end, respond in a very agile way to every new learning, and continuously iterate.

Because of that, we ended up with a prototype we could hand off to the client with confidence that it would meaningfully improve lives and make a difference. And I think our client had that confidence too.

BN: Do you have a “wake-up call” moment that made you realize you wanted to contribute to society through your work?

EBL: I’ve been in that drive to contribute since high school, but I did get sidetracked after college. I think both the pandemic and the changing political landscape have really been accumulating into being more committed. Particularly how the pandemic highlighted ongoing inequities, racial, and gender-based, so many inequities still present in our society. And then, just my realization of how many sectors of society seem determined to ensure that we don’t work on changing those circumstances.

I’m historically the kind of person who tends to have a lot of faith in institutions and feel confidence that there are a lot of smart people working on these problems. My attitude was always, we’re heading in the right direction overall. I’m doing my work in the pro bono space for now and I’ll get there full-time someday. But the wake-up call for me was that you can’t just wait for others to do the work. At some point, it becomes imperative to say, I have to do that work myself too, and the time is now.

“I’m the kind of person who tends to have a lot of faith in institutions and that there are a lot of smart people working on the problems that matter. But at some point, you can’t look to others to do the work. You say I have to do that work myself, too.”

BN: Well, since you mentioned this, I think the next question makes sense. During this global crisis, what is your advice for folks that are trying to switch careers and work in this field? And also for those that would like to volunteer and don’t know where to start?

EBL: I think those two are directly related because for me, doing pro bono work in the field was so instrumental to actually being able to move into it full-time. If you want to make a career pivot, do it as a side hustle until you’re in a position to make it your full-time thing. Your side hustle doesn’t have to be money-making — just meaningful. Working pro bono in this space was so instrumental to understand where the opportunities are, and where my skill sets the best fit. Where are the gaps that intersect with what I can do, where can I offer something that is different from the rest and where it’s really necessary? And just learning what works for you and what doesn’t, meeting people who are passionate in this space and can help you navigate it and understand what’s out there, making the time for the conversations, but really just getting your hands dirty in the work as much as possible. And I think USDR is a really good place to do that because they’re very tangible, very meaningful projects, and it’s a great place to learn. But also any local nonprofit or government agency, anybody who’s looking for a little bit extra help. This world is hungry for people who are willing to help, just raise your hand and spend a little time working in that space.

“I think USDR is a really good place to do that because they’re very tangible, very meaningful projects, and it’s a great place to learn.”

BN: Thank you! Any final thoughts?

EBL: I think just as a final thought, I do a lot of work in STEM education and equity, and there’s a pretty popular saying that all jobs in the future are gonna be STEM jobs in some way. I think that’s just as true as for social innovation and social impact. I think all jobs in some way are gonna be social innovation or social impact simply because the work that everyone does ultimately impacts human beings and it can make their lives a little bit better. We owe it to ourselves and to our world to understand what really is that impact that we’re making on a human being. I think really understanding the impact that we make and being conscious of that and adjusting accordingly is one way that pretty much everyone can help make the world the place where we want to be.

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Interested in using your skills to help people in your community?

From design researchers to software engineers, there’s a spot for your skills at USDR. Learn more about USDR or sign up to volunteer your time at www.usdigitalresponse.org/volunteers.

Have more questions? Watch a recording of a past Volunteer Info Session or register to attend an upcoming session.



U.S. Digital Response
U.S. Digital Response

Connecting governments and nonprofits with pro bono technologists and assistance to quickly respond to the critical needs of the public.