Qualitative Research

At Code for America

Researchers at Code for America seek to understand the beliefs, needs, and values of people to create a foundation for innovative and life-changing products and services. Research is fundamental to developing government services that better and more equitably meet the needs of communities. Raising the bar on research raises the bar on quality and effectiveness for everything we seek to do. 


Our research seeks to inspire action against real problems. We believe that the best-planned, most insightful research is worth little if the problems it finds are never addressed, or the opportunities it reveals go unrealized.

Our research approach is humble, comfortable with uncertainty, and open to anything we might discover.

From interviews and in-person observations at the start of a project, to creating journey maps that describe needs and pain points, all the way through to usability testing, qualitative research ensures that we build the right thing at the right time for the people who need it most.

Guiding principles

We strive to be humble, trauma-informed, and experience-led 

We practice deep listening in order to treat every individual’s lived experience with care and to ensure they feel heard. We cultivate humility, knowing that even if we have subject matter knowledge in a problem space, we are not the experts on anyone’s life. We respond empathetically to a person’s needs and concerns without explaining why technological capacity or government bureaucracy might limit our ability to implement a remedy right away.

People lead the way 

We believe that the experiences and needs of the people we serve should drive product decisions and organizational vision.

People are not defined by the products and services they use

We believe that everyone we serve has needs and experiences that exist outside of just the product or service that we’re working on. Research gives us the unique opportunity to think beyond the boundaries of organizational structure and government silos to discover new opportunities that serve our population best.

We ask big questions by starting small 

We believe in creating systems change through building an understanding of individual experiences.

Research is a shared value and a respected practice 

We believe that design, engineering, policy, marketing, development, operations, and leadership all benefit from proximity to the people we serve and their stories. We should all hear their voices often and firsthand. While everyone should regularly participate in research, our skilled research staff are best equipped to plan and guide it. Rigorous research practices and protocols ensure valid data which help generate the most impact.

We care for ourselves and each other with the same respect we give our participants

We believe that community care for researchers is an ethical imperative. We care for ourselves and our fellow researchers in order to be able to best care for, serve, and respect our participants. We acknowledge the challenges of this work by giving ourselves breaks and protecting each other’s time to process. Creating an interdependent community of researchers ensures we can show up fully for each other and for our participants.