SF Building Permitting

SF Building Permitting
Client: Truss, San Francisco
Dates: March – April 2020
Skills/Subjects: , , , ,
URL: https://sf.gov/apply-building-permit

When COVID-19 closures started in early 2020, San Francisco was unable to accommodate emergency construction for housing. In just four weeks, we put their building permitting process online!

San Francisco’s permitting office was in the midst of transforming processing applications from a paper-based workflow to a digital-based workflow. A critical piece of this effort was the ability for someone to apply for a permit online via sf.gov’s website. In March 2020, there was a massive scramble for information in San Francisco, including how to continue doing normal things like filing permits.

In this March 16, 2020 photo, a line of permit-seekers stretched out the door of the Department of Building Inspection and down Mission Street at the exact moment the mayor and health director were announcing the initial shelter-in-place order. Source: missionlocal.org

SF Digital Services engaged Truss to create the first version of the digital form from a paper-based process. We worked with them to design and develop phase 2 of the customer facing side of the Building Permit application process over two sprints. In these sprints we jointly prioritize epics and stories with SFDS decision-makers, designed and implemented those stories, and documented future work to ensure that online permitting applications would be secure, reliable, and observable.

My fellow Trussels Liz Lin, Namibia Torres, Carla Silvey, Jim Benton, and I worked shoulder to shoulder with the San Francisco Digital Services (SFDS) team to make this happen, from research to rapid prototyping to a production release. I contributed primarily to the research, design, and testing of the forms in addition to some content and light front end development.

About a year later, one of our SFDS counterparts—Bekah Otto—wrote about our work (partly) in “How to make a form.” Around the same time, another SFDSer—Lauren Jong—showed how rapid response projects like ours helped the city collect form data faster than before.

A graph showing forms completed per month increasing from barely anything in March, to 25k in September to nearly 50k in November.
A graph showing pageviews per week between January and June of 2020, starting very low, then rapidly peaking to over a million in mid-March, then remaining fairly steady around 300-500k