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San Francisco, California

The Problem

San Francisco is faced with complex challenges like homelessness, affordable housing, and climate change. Although the city had a large number of residents with skills that could be used to support city efforts, it did not have the capacity or infrastructure to manage volunteers, and companies that wished to provide pro-bono services did not know how to engage with the city.

The Solution: Civic Bridge

The city tapped its existing Office of Civic Innovation to coordinate a program that brought together private sector volunteers and city staff to develop solutions for public challenges. Volunteers contributed approximately 20% of their time over a 16-week period. City staff identified challenges that could benefit greatly from pro-bono help, matched volunteers with city teams, scoped projects, and coached teams on their work.

How it Works

Each fall, a cohort of participants, consisting of teams of 5 to 15 residents and city staff members, worked on 6-10 civic challenges. The Office of Civic Innovation (OCI) coordinated the project and provided support.

  • City departments submitted projects that addressed clearly defined problems. To ensure the project’s success and sustainability, problems were required to be department priorities to which resources had already been allocated.
  • A cross-departmental internal working group evaluated and selected projects for the program.
  • Three months before each cohort began work, the OCI team presented challenge statements to companies, who then voted on projects they wished to support.
  • Once companies were matched with projects, teams composed of volunteers and city staff began to meet for 8-10 hours per week. Participating departments dedicated a project manager who committed 20% of their time to support the project.
  • Over the first eight weeks, the teams refined and scoped the projects during a discovery period, working closely with experts and stakeholders and presenting their findings to participants.
  • Over the remaining eight weeks, teams developed recommendations and an action plan, soliciting feedback from stakeholders throughout.
  • On Demo Day, teams shared the outcomes of their projects with the mayor, department heads, and other stakeholders.
  • The OCI team continued to follow up with city staff to ensure successful implementation of projects and provided support as needed.


The Results

Civic Bridge has worked with 25 city departments on 49 projects, engaging about 450 city staff and citizen volunteers. The city estimates that companies have provided $3.9 million in pro-bono work through the program. Successful projects include:

  • A team that included Google employees designed DAHLIA, a new affordable housing website. An estimated 85% of all affordable housing rental applications have come through the new system since launch.  
  • One team designed a system to help people experiencing homelessness enroll in Medi-Cal health benefits.
  • Another team created a referral system that enabled legal aid organizations to take in and prioritize requests for legal counsel from residents facing eviction.
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