California’s new digital services office puts people over projects

California‘s new digital innovation office is about more than just flashy tech projects — it’s about making government services easier for people.

“The theory right now is that [the office will] be doing a lot of the discovery work, so partnering with agencies that have problems or have things that they want to see done better,” Michael Wilkening, special adviser to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, says in a video interview with StateScoop.

But if a shared service is determined to be a better fit to solve an agency’s problem, rather than by applying a new digital service, the work will move to the state’s Department of Technology, Wilkening said.

The approach, Wilkening says, lines up with some of the user-centered design work he did as undersecretary, and later as secretary, of California’s Health and Human Services Agency. Wilkening joined Newsom’s office in March to help stand up the digital innovation office, which is not to be confused with a former office under the state’s IT agency with the same name.

The new office posted a job listing in search of a new director in June, but it has not yet announced a new director. Regardless of who fills the position, Wilkening says the office will stay focused on solving citizen service problems for Californians.

“Bringing a user-centered design lens to that work, that’s going to be a common thread to everything that this office does,” Wilkening says. “It’s going to be focused on people, rather than on departments and programs.”

Wilkening on his top priorities:

Wilkening on the challenges to his work:

Wilkening on digital service trend:

These videos were filmed in May 2019 at the Code for America Summit in Oakland, California, through a partnership between StateScoop and Code for America.