Commonwealth Office of Digital Experience Pennsylvania

Unleashing Pennsylvania's Digital Potential: Building CODE PA


When Josh Shapiro became the Governor of Pennsylvania, he saw an opportunity to transform how the state delivered digital services to its residents. Early in his term, he established the Commonwealth Office of Digital Experience (CODE PA) to provide simple, seamless, and secure services to the people of Pennsylvania. Understanding the need for digital expertise and talent, the state partnered with U.S. Digital Response (USDR) to enhance hiring practices and organizational design. The partnership empowered the Shapiro administration to develop technical solutions in-house, ultimately leading to improved policy implementation. A testament to Governor Shapiro's vision, CODE PA sets a precedent for best practices in state-level digital service delivery and demonstrates what’s achievable with strong leadership, effective implementation strategies, and competent execution.

Creating An In-House Team of Digital Experts
With a tech-savvy governor at the helm, Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Lee, alongside Director of Digital Strategy Annie Newman, had the unique opportunity to modernize Pennsylvania's digital services.

With Governor Shapiro's direction, the team did an exhaustive scan of their current digital landscape – discovering needs for specific disciplines with digital infrastructure and staffing. They realized that the state’s existing approach, which resembled outdated “waterfall” practices, hindered progress. Inconsistent access to state government services compounded the issue, leaving residents frustrated by a lack of coherence and user-friendliness.

​​Recognizing the need for a paradigm shift, the Commonwealth brought in USDR to help recruit and retain digital talent for CODE PA. Thanks to previous successful collaborations, the team saw USDR as a trusted ally, capable of bridging critical gaps in disciplines like product management, user experience design, and user research. Now, the Commonwealth needed toolkits and best practices to help build an effective digital team. 

Our approach

A Signal To the Ecosystem

USDR's expertise in organizational design, recruitment strategies, and understanding of and exposure to private sector candidates proved valuable in developing interview and evaluation processes, ensuring a structured and efficient hiring process for key personnel for CODE PA.

Teaming up with the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, USDR organized an Informational Session for the Digital Service Network, spotlighting the roles within CODE PA, potential projects, and the organizational culture. This event was pivotal in generating enthusiasm among potential candidates and introducing CODE PA to the civic tech ecosystem. Joe shared that many early candidates discovered CODE PA through this engagement, which he dubbed the “magic moment” in the process.

While the partnership primarily centered on recruiting the initial six deputy-level members for the CODE PA team, it also aimed to reshape the organizational structure and create efficient, repeatable hiring processes to enhance the Commonwealth's capacity for the future. Because of this, Joe enrolled the Commonwealth’s HR department from the outset to get their collaboration and buy-in on the new hiring and recruiting methodologies.

In addition to the information session, USDR ultimately provided the Commonwealth with:

1. Interview and Evaluation Process Support: USDR assisted in developing a comprehensive interview and evaluation toolkit, including panel interviews, interview scripts, and scoring criteria.

2. Communications Toolkit: Templated communications for social media and email were provided to facilitate spreading awareness about open roles among departments and partners, streamlining the amplification process.

3. Dedicated Digital Hiring Hub: A dedicated online presence was leveraged to serve as a centralized hiring hub for all CODE PA’s posted roles.

4. Targeted Email Outreach: USDR crafted a targeted email blast to its network of 9,000 "handraisers" (individuals interested in government volunteering) who met specific geographic and skill criteria, providing information on how to apply for the CODE PA roles.These toolkits and support provided the administration with the capacity to deliver an effective hiring process for the initial CODE PA applicants and the ability to replicate the effort without USDR for future digital hires.

"The magical moment for us was not only the awesome team USDR assembled, but seeing the early results of that engagement flourish rapidly. The early wins and traction was truly fruitful, providing a boost that would have been much harder to achieve without USDR's involvement."

Joe Lee
Deputy Chief of Staff
Office of Governor Josh Shapiro | Commonwealth of Pennsylvania


"The value is known. The importance is known."

With customer service as a centerpiece of the Shapiro Administration, digital services have inherent value throughout the Commonwealth. Thanks to this focus, the narrative around digital work in state government is changing. 

“[CODE PA] is in the room for policy decisions and discussions,” Annie reflected. “Everyone is very aware that [they] have a hand in executing [policy and] because we want [service delivery] to be digital forward.” 

CODE PA swiftly implemented user-friendly policies using human-centered design and customer experience principles, increasing accountability and transparency to government services through programs like, the first-in-the-nation online money-back guarantee system, and a medical insurance Independent External Review for wrongly denied claims.

By prioritizing digital services and reshaping the recruiting approaches to digital delivery work, CODE PA now has a greater understanding of civic tech practices and access to a previously untapped talent pool.

These efforts reflect Governor Josh Shapiro's visionary leadership and commitment to advancing digital services, setting a precedent for other states, and ensuring that digital strategies play a pivotal role in policy implementation.

The CODE PA team meets Jen Pahlka (USDR board chair)

Meet the team

Adele Peterson
Adele was recently a Director of Engineering at Apple, where she led teams that worked on WebKit, Safari, Messages, Mail, and visionOS Apps. As a consultant and volunteer, Adele is now focused on helping people make their own positive impact.
Sheila Thompson
Sheila Thompson is the co-founder of Hiring Guild where she advises companies on recruiting for Product Design and Research and hiring more women and people of color. In her spare time, she works to promote Democracy and elect women into government.
Vicki McFadden
Vicki is a product manager on the General Services Administration's service delivery team and partners with teams to deliver digital services focused on user needs. She has over a decade of experience working with government teams.
Meghan Sutherland
Meghan is a strategist and creative producer who works with media and technology companies on large-scale content development. Most recently Meghan has worked with The Aspen Institute, Emerson Collective, and as a staff producer at The Atlantic.
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