Seattle’s Civic User Testing Group Engages Residents to Provide Feedback on City Technology Tools

Seattle residents rely on government and nonprofit websites and apps to access key information and resources, like utility accounts, housing assistance, permits, and library services. But they don’t always get the chance to provide feedback on that technology and how useful – and usable – it is for them.

Seattle’s new Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) aims to involve residents in the creation of technology that’s designed for public use, giving residents a voice and a chance to gain technology experience, while helping developers of this technology make it more effective. Given the growing prominence of online platforms in daily activities, technology design has become a key opportunity to address principles of inclusivity, diversity and equity.

The CUTGroup is a partnership between the City of Seattle Information Technology Department; the University of Washington iSchool; and the civic technology community group Open Seattle. It’s modeled after similar programs in Miami, Chicago and Detroit, and supports the City’s Digital Equity Initiative, which works to ensure that all residents have the opportunities and skills to participate in digital activities.

To join the CUTGroup, you just need to be a resident of Seattle — no technology experience or device ownership is required. Residents can fill out a brief form on the CUTGroup website and will be notified when a new testing opportunity is available. Test sessions will be up to an hour long and run by user experience researchers in a small-group setting. Each participant will receive a $20 Visa gift card per session.

Funding for the CUTGroup is provided by the City of Seattle Information Technology Department and will provide support for up to four test sessions for four different civic websites and apps this spring.

In order to form a diverse group of resident testers that is inclusive of all of Seattle’s communities, we’re looking for organizations interested in serving as Community Partners to help spread the word. As a partner, you can help ensure that your community is represented in the feedback provided to developers creating technology for public use, and your organization will be featured on the CUTGroup website and in each published report from our test sessions. For more information about becoming a Community Partner, please email

Learn more about the Civic User Testing Group on our website.

City for All hackathon is a hit

Pandora for Streets/Smellevation Maps Team

The City for All hackathon was a big civic hit over the weekend. Nine teams competed for recognition and prizes at City Hall’s Bertha Knight Landes room. The theme of the hackathon was to find solutions for the challenges of aging and accessibility. The winner for Best Overall Innovation was the Pandora for Streets/Smellevation Maps team which addressed several of the eight domains of livability in a single app. The app would also include paths in Seattle that present the best smells, sounds, views, and hills. Users can rank how important each aspect is to improve the algorithms of the app. The winner of Best Accessibility Hack was GoInfo Game which gamified the collection of bus stop information that’s crucial for disabled riders. The Winner of Best Use of Open Data and and Best Data Visualization was SeaSidewalks which developed a visualization of data from SDOT’s recent Citywide sidewalk analysis. The team came up with a mechanism for prioritizing sidewalk issues based on factors like proximity to hospitals and other key facilities.


Seattle IT, meet Ada Developers Academy. A perfect match.

Since February of this year, Seattle IT has had the privilege of working with its first group of interns from Ada Developers Academy.

For those who don’t know, Ada Developers Academy is a Seattle-based program for women and nonbinary individuals who want to pursue a career as software developers, but do not have a traditional background in computer science.  The highly competitive year-long program provides students the skills, experience, and community support to become professional software developers.  Students spend half the year in class and half in a carefully matched internship.

Ada’s mission is to change the face of the technology industry one software developer at a time.

Seattle IT’s Ada interns have varied and distinctly untechnical pre-Seattle IT lives.  In her former life, Karin Kubischta was a product manager at Amazon.  After 10 years there, she needed a change and realized she would much rather “make” things than “plan” them.  “I feel like a magician now,” she said.   “It’s a really good feeling of accomplishment.”  Karin is working with the Open Data team building a one-stop shop for all the open data sets.  She is using an ASP.NET MVC web application that replaces the ODSF (Open Data Submission Form) and Dataset Inventory Spreadsheet for the Open Data Team’s intake process. It uses an MSSQL database to store information about open datasets that each department has identified and is planning on publishing, allowing for better tracking of datasets throughout the publishing process. Her project is in QA right now, and will be rolled out to department data champions during the first few weeks of June. Her supervisor is David Doyle and she’s mentored by Gwen Goetz.

Maddie Johnson, a math major who turned into a grant writer for a Boston non-profit, is now working with the Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) team creating an application to make the process of permitting a house a more interactive experience.  Maddie works under Dani Priest and is mentored by Julie Gephart.  Her project is to create an interactive and visual way for people to learn about the permits they need for their house construction and renovations. The goal is to have a diagram of a house and users can click on the different sections and icons. SDCI received feedback that users would prefer a more visual site, so this aligns with that request. Maddie is building it using C# to build a .Net API with data being stored in a SQL Server Database and an AngularJS front end.  Fun fact: Before her Ada Developers Academy experience, Maddie feared computers!

This brings us to Allison Hoke.  Allison has a MS in counseling and was working as a mental health counselor in Ohio before attending Ada.  While she was always drawn to logical and analytical problem solving, her career path, like many women, went the caregiving route.  “I was guiding people on their journey to an authentic life when I realized I was ignoring my own.  I was missing intellectual stimulation, which I found in droves when I switched career paths.”  Allison is working with the SDOT GIS team — Suzi Brunzell is supervising and Paul Youm, Michael Wypyszinski, and Brandon Ha are mentoring — creating a Web API that will route pedestrians and bicyclists throughout the city. The API considers a user’s unique barriers to travel and provides a route that best suits their needs and preferences. For example, a bicyclist may want to avoid streets with a steep slope. She hopes to have the project as close to complete as possible at the end of the internship – at which point another developer will be able to create a user-facing application that will deliver the results from the API in a user-friendly way.

Ada prepares its graduates for a work environment in which there are very few female developers and the terrain can be hostile.  Especially in private companies where sexism and ageism can run rampant.  However, this couldn’t have been farther from the experience had by Seattle IT’s interns who felt completely welcomed by all.  “It was a special thing to have our first experience as software developers in a place where women are lifted up,” said Maddie.  “We could be vulnerable in a completely safe place.”

The gratitude is clearly mutual with supervisors and mentors saying they learned as much from their Ada interns as they imparted to them.  David Doyle, Open Data Manager, summed it up: “It’s been a lot of fun having Karin on our team, we’ve all learned a lot from her and wherever her next move takes her she’ll be a huge asset to that team, as well as an advocate for the work we’re doing re: open data.  I would highly encourage other managers here at the City with software development needs to avail of interns from the Ada Developers Academy in the future, it’s a really wonderful program.”

Seattle IT moves to the cloud

An article on cloud storage in GovTech Today features Seattle IT Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller.

The article predicts that even though cloud growth will crest soon, state, county and local agencies are likely to continue their migrations from private to public cloud. State and local governments are seeking the most cost-effective ways to deliver enhanced services to their customers. Security is another key factor. Public cloud providers are increasingly meeting federal standards and boosting internal safeguards, attracting more attention from public sector agencies.

In Seattle, the article says, Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller said the City has maintained applications including its Microsoft Office 365 email system in the cloud for several years and works with other cloud vendors including Amazon Web Services. But he questioned whether cloud will soon become an all-or-nothing proposition for government.

“We opportunistically leverage cloud where it makes sense. Broadly, in the City we see ourselves having a data center that we maintain and control for at least the next five to 10 years,” Mattmiller said, noting that there’s simply not a path to cloud for all of the roughly 1,200 applications the city maintains.

Having three cloud delivery models, Mattmiller said SaaS seems to offer the most opportunity because of the speed at which solutions and access can be deployed. Having moved Seattle’s email system to the cloud, Mattmiller suggested that telecommunications services might be the next candidate for cloud migration.

The article is in the June print version of GovTech Today. Read the full article online here.