Postcard from California


A few of us recently got back from Sacramento, California, where we’ve been working with the small team that’s building a new alpha for the state government website, Alpha.CA.gov

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The alpha team. Photo: @cadotgov

The Government of California is building the alpha to test a new approach for delivering information and services to its citizens. California has a fragmented digital estate with more than 680 websites spread across multiple domains, and different approaches to content and design across agencies and departments. This makes it difficult for users to find the information and services they need. The alpha team is focusing on user needs and using the alpha itself as an opportunity to try out internet-era ways of working. They’ve been inspired by the success of other single domains like GOV.UK and GOB.PE, but they are following a Californian path of their own. 

Angie, their product manager, has outlined a bold mission to use digital to better meet user’s needs and test new, agile, iterative ways of working. In partnership with Code for America, we helped them build a team to figure out where to start. 

Showing the alpha thing

The alpha team is about 9 weeks into the 12-week alpha. Here’s a look at what they’ve built so far: 

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The latest iteration of their homepage includes clear calls to action for feedback.

 

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A prototype for finding a local food bank.

 

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A service to help users quickly calculate the minimum wage they’re entitled to.

 

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This page shows the step-by-step pattern on a prototype for finding a licenced contractor. Reusing GOV.UK’s step by step navigation – a well-tested design pattern – has helped speed up delivery.

 

The right team working in the right way

This is a team of individuals who are open-minded, highly motivated and willing to challenge established thinking – attributes we think are essential for the alpha to be a success. They’re also working in the open; doing regular show and tells, blogging, tweeting, and sharing their work on GitHub. They recently blogged about their impressive work on translations between Spanish and English.

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Anyone who’s seen our Public Digital laptop stickers will have seen the catchphrases we repeat all the time: Teams before tech. Build a team, not an app. The Californians have started with the team, and we think that’s why they’re moving so fast and so successfully. Keep at it, team California! We’ll see you again soon.

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