What I Did Last Week (#GGovJam #sjpdj13 Edition)

GovJam 13 took place last week all around the world. Volunteer participants had about 48 hours to work on building innovative approaches and solutions towards challenges faced by the public sector. The San Francisco contingent was hosted by Adaptive Path, in their lovely space at the piers on the city's waterfront. 

Participants included Code for America fellows, city agency workers, public health researchers, and a healthy range of wonderfully skilled people passionate about the public good.

Our project was GovSherpa. Our mission statement: Matching users facing complex government interactions with citizen guides who have navigated that Terra incognita. 

 Team members: Patrick Atwater, Cris Cristina, Zoe Madden-Wood, Dan Turner.


There are thousands, if not millions, of people in every city who have lived through complex, stressful, and extended interactions with local or regional government agencies. They may have needed junk hauled from their street but not known whom to call; they may have had to find their way through domestic abuse support systems; they may have found dealing with multiple agencies too confusing and given up on starting a business. Without having known where to go, or what information to have at the ready, their interactions with bureaucracies can often be adversarial and stressful, making them feel that the government is not on their side and causing mass inefficiencies for the government.

There are also as many people each year who face these same problems, but don't know where to start.

GovSherpa is a simple and powerful matching system that connects people facing government problems beyond the scope of 311, the SBA, and other existing agencies, with volunteer "guides". We ask guides to tell their stories, outline their availability and special expertise; a database matches a user based on his or her needs to a guide.
Users can contact GovSherpa directly, or be referred by these existing services. The guides can connect with the users through their choice of modes: phone, text, IM, email, or even in person.

In our research, empathy plays almost as large a role as information – people want someone on their side as much as they want to know what to do. And we've seen how people want to share, if the barrier and time commitment is low enough (or even if it is high: emergency responders can build deep relationships in their community: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201306071000).

GovSherpa allows cities to open up the information currently locked inside thousands of individual experiences to help lower barriers to government services and increase the empathy and efficiency of cities, counties, and states. 

You can see our presentation slides here

We learned a good deal about service design and experience mapping. 

We all had a great experience, found the volunteer facilitators and the Adaptive Path staff fantastic, and were excited to propose something that could leverage existing knowledge and help people share what they want to share.