City of Boulder, CO – Boulder Business Recovery (COVID-19)

Cross-Departmental Response to COVID-19 Business Reopening
The City of Boulder recognized the significant impact COVID-19 has had on the local business community. To support local business citywide while protecting customers and employees, the city established the Boulder Business Recovery Program to allow businesses to expand their space outdoors.

The Daily Camera reported Mayor Pro Tem Bob Yates encouraged city officials to learn from their speedy response to help keep as many local businesses afloat as possible during the unprecedented pandemic and to think about where else in the city regulatory process red tape could be cut to make things easier on employers.  “I hope we can use this particular experience as a case study for how the city can act nimbly and quickly to cut through regulatory hurdles and eliminate regulatory barriers.”

Boulder Business Recovery – the Challenge

Boulder faced similar regulatory and public health and safety challenges as other cities when it came to safely reopening its restaurants, retail locations, etc. as part of COVID-19 responses. In addition, intense pressure came from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, City Council, and other public interests to make the reopening as simple and streamlined as possible.


Certainly the rapid shift from nearly all on-premise workers to virtual and / or hybrid work teams as a result of COVID-19 pushed cities like Boulder out of their comfort zones. Team dynamics, employee engagement, decision making, meeting management, etc. all needed to be moved – and quickly.


Boulder needed to develop and implement a solution — within a week — where none of the employees involved in designing the approach were actually working on-premise.

Our Solution

When faced with the desire to create rapid and innovative business reopening approaches, Boulder’s Planning and Development Services department (P&DS) used bold tools to get the job done.  Team Tipton designed and facilitated an approach whereby the P&DS department combined the concepts of human centered design along with AGILE methodologies to develop and implement a comprehensive, flexible, and innovative solution in six days.


They didn’t start with what they “couldn’t do,” they started with “what might we do…”


The process focused on the five steps in design thinking: 1) empathize with their business customers (what do they TRULY need?), 2) identify barriers to innovation (what are our historic biases?), 3) generate intriguing options (be BOLD), 4) iterate prototypes (develop, present, refine, repeat), and 5) drive participation with stakeholders (implement change through people, not to people).

Outcome / Benefits

The results? Boulder’s P&DS department created an exemplary approach to support the rapid, flexible, and adaptable business reopening. Rather than creating an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare for both the P&DS department and the business community, Boulder’s business community, local newspaper and engaged citizens have all reported the benefits of the P&DS approach. The P&DS department balanced the need for health and safety, code compliance and drove a massively-different approach toward accepting and approving applications for temporary outdoor expansions and building permit-related changes. Further, the P&DS department did this amid the challenges of layoff, furloughs, and the uncertainty of job security.

For more, see Boulder’s Business Recovery site HERE.

Community Development, Public Works, Transportation and Mobility