Creating a Culture of Digital Service in the City of Philadelphia

Sara Hall, the City of Philadelphia Director of Digital Services joined the GovLove podcast to chat about her team and work.

Serving her city and charting a new era of digital services for Philadelphia is a natural pairing for Sara Hall. In a live taping of the GovLove Podcast, the first Digital Services Director for the City of Philadelphia reflected on her career trajectory and her current approach to leading the city’s team since her appointment in March 2022. She emphasized partnership and intentional strategy to best serve both municipal staff and residents. 

Hall’s background in human-centered design and architecture inspired her interests in tech and service design. She joined city staff in 2017 as a product manager tasked with overhauling, a one-stop shop for city information and services. The project ended up spanning the first two years of her tenure. In the podcast conversation, Hall walked through the timeline of her team’s coordination of development and content efforts to fully launch the site and relocate under the City’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) – just before the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. In discussing Philadelphia’s ability to react and respond to the crisis, Hall elaborated on how helped the city pivot to full-on digital touchpoints and continue to deliver — and expand — high-quality services to its residents. 

At the core of her work is her passion for the people of Philadelphia and her pride in the welcoming space the Digital Services (DS) team has created: one where every member can bring their identities, passion, and lived experiences to their work to make the city reflective of the people it serves. 

Throughout the discussion, Hall described the key characteristics that allow her team to be successful and facilitate positive change:

  • Keep the city’s capacity and sustainability of digital services work top-of-mind: For example, Philadelphia is implementing an apprenticeship program to develop digital skills for employees in other city departments.
  • Engage in continuous education and communication: The team stays connected with the entire municipal workforce by hosting open office hours and preparing regular newsletters about the DS team projects.
  • Focus on genuine partnerships with stakeholders: Rather than trying to “wipe the slate clean” regarding existing municipal processes, Hall and her staff recognize that veteran employees have experience and wisdom that cannot be replaced, and actively engage with and rely upon them in their work.
  • Thinking critically about the future: What might a formal governance body or working group look like for How can the team continue to develop new products/services while maintaining the site’s relevance and existing role? These are questions that Hall and her team are currently working through as they look toward the next phase of the site and the team. 

The podcast episode can be found on the GovLove Podcast stream, available on all streaming platforms

About the Digital Service Network

The Digital Service Network shares what works in government digital transformation, with a goal of replicating and scaling proven approaches. We help leading digital service teams and practitioners continue to succeed and connect newcomers to training, technical assistance, and community support as they chart a new course in their governments. The project is based at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.