USDR teammates at an IRL (team retreat)

Four years of building capacity: U.S. Digital Response sets eyes on the horizon

U.S. Digital Response
U.S. Digital Response
5 min readMar 28, 2024


As U.S. Digital Response commemorates its four-year milestone, we find ourselves not only celebrating the substantial strides made in modernizing government services through technology but also marking the one-year anniversary of Hillary Hartley’s leadership as CEO. Here, Hillary shares her reflections as we look towards the horizon.

My journey to U.S. Digital Response (USDR) was driven by a deep-seated belief in technology as a catalyst for positive change in government operations.

One year ago, I was sitting on the government side of the civic tech movement. As the Chief Digital and Data Officer and deputy minister for the Ontario Public Service, I was charged with making government services simpler, faster, and more accessible for the communities of Ontario, Canada. Previously, I worked for the United States government, most recently as deputy executive director and co-founder of 18F inside the General Services Administration. There, I helped grow the founding team of 10 to 250 designers, developers, and product managers delivering key services to U.S. departments and agencies.

I watched USDR spin up during March 2020 and very quickly establish itself, collaborating on easy-to-use solutions that allowed governments to amplify critical resources and services in real-time. In the years that followed, USDR expanded its ability to work alongside governments at all levels to ensure they had the capacity to meet the public’s needs. I was in awe not only of the organization, but the brave way government partners asked for help. The palpable excitement about USDR’s trajectory, coupled with its culture of values and leadership, was infectious. You can see more recent recaps in our 2022 and 2023 year-end summaries.

Quite simply, when USDR came knocking, I knew I had to open the door. And a year later, I’m so glad I did. Joining USDR felt like stepping into a community united by a shared vision of transformative public service.

Reflections on a year of impact

I spent my first few months at USDR listening to our ecosystem friends and partners, digging into the value of our organization and what the next chapter of USDR could look like. For me, these chats crystallized a vision to elevate the digital maturity of our government partners and create capacity from within. We’ve seen this very ethos illuminated with partners like Nevada, where our grant discovery tool was deployed across the state to help collaborate and streamline the way communities apply for federal grants. This effort was further explored in our April 2023 report, No Front Door: Barriers to Access for Small Communities Seeking Federal Grants, advocating for and showcasing how the federal government can make the federal grant journey more equitable for small communities.

Through the work of our partners, I’ve had a million little “aha” moments. This clarity of purpose has only strengthened my conviction in USDR’s mission.

The collective impact of projects

From the outset, USDR establishes itself as a nonpartisan thought partner. This approach allows our partners to gain a fresh understanding of their own challenges and rethink issues and user needs. We make a point to meet governments where they are, driving the development of community-specific solutions as well as planting the seeds for potential new initiatives at USDR. USDR’s Election Software Collaborative, launched in July 2023, shines a bright light on this approach. The team had been developing customized solutions for election offices across the country and saw an opportunity to help even more. By listening to the tools needed by election officials to run seamless elections, our team created this new partnership to help election offices access low-cost, secure, and user-friendly software that relieves administrative burdens. Through the Collaborative, election offices also gain access to a community of peers across the country to share and learn best practices.

The true measure of USDR’s influence extends beyond individual projects, embodying a collective uplift in the way digital services are conceived and delivered across governments. Through our engagements, we not only address present needs but also lay the groundwork for a sustainable model of digital excellence in public services.

The core message: just start

When we talk about creating capacity from the inside out, we mean it — from a surge of support through our volunteers, upskilling staff, deploying easy-to-use tools, to building digital teams. Our recently launched talent focus area helps governments take the guesswork out of attracting high-quality technical talent, like our engagement with the City of Baltimore, and also focuses on the retention of these teams. Many teams may feel the crush of bureaucracy or encounter roadblocks early on, especially with projects that involve hiring. If you find yourself in this predicament please reach out; USDR can be a helpful partner to “just start.”

The philosophy of starting small can be a game-changer for government partners. USDR champions this by focusing on a deep understanding of needs, scoping projects down to a manageable scale to learn from, and tapping into our pool of volunteer expertise — now over 9,000 people strong. This approach empowers our partners to take the first steps toward significant, long-term improvements in their service delivery models.

USDR’s next chapter

Four years after we launched, we continue to be in awe of the many brave government leaders who have reached out for help. To date, USDR has partnered with 400 governments and organizations on more than 400 projects impacting over 40 U.S. states and territories. That’s one project for every three days of USDR’s existence.

Looking to the horizon, I envision USDR as a beacon of sustainability and leadership in digital government. Our ultimate goal is to reach a point where our existence becomes unnecessary, having equipped governments with the tools and capabilities to meet their residents’ needs dynamically. This is not a short-term objective, rather it underscores our commitment to a future where governments are self-sufficient in delivering high-quality digital services.

As USDR moves forward, we invite all to join us in this journey — whether as partners, volunteers, or supporters — to play a part in shaping the future of digital government services. Together, we can continue to push new boundaries and utilize technology to its best potential, not only for today’s communities but for generations to come.

Want to join the movement in 2024?



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.