How we put users at the heart of our work

The Child Welfare Digital Service (CWDS) is a groundbreaking collaborative, a mix of vendors and state technologists working together, using agile software development methods, with child welfare practice experts across the state. As a nonprofit social venture focused on improving outcomes for children and families, Case Commons is excited to join forces with the Technology Platform, DevOps, Policy, Data, Implementation and other CWDS teams to deliver the Intake Digital Service.

Case Commons is deeply invested in the state’s commitment to user-centered design. User-centered design puts caseworkers and supervisors at the heart of our work. Meeting compliance and reporting requirements is, of course, crucial; our starting point, however, is the flow of work and organization of information that best support day-to-day operational decision making.

On past projects this user-centered approach has helped us measurably improve both practice fidelity and data quality. In Indiana, for example, we implemented, as key features of a new child welfare system, “embedded” operational metrics on caseworker dashboards; these metrics contributed to a 13.8% increase in the share of children seen by their caseworkers in the last 30 days, and an 81% increase in recorded visits between children and their birth parents.

What sets our work with CWDS apart is that the state has arranged an unprecedented level of direct access to our users. We began with intensive discovery, interviewing and shadowing caseworkers and supervisors across our six core counties: Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Cruz, Fresno, Yolo and Butte. We not only listened to county users to understand their pain points and aspirations, but also observed them as they did their jobs – in the office and out in the field – to see the problems they didn’t think to share with us because they’ve become so used to them.

Such careful user research helps Wendy Christian, the Intake Digital Service Manager, and  Jeff Dent, the Intake Product Owner, rethink the Intake process and shape the Intake Product Roadmap [https://cwds.storiesonboard.com/m/cwds]. The Product Roadmap evolves iteratively as we learn from our users. Much of that learning flows from numerous rounds of usability testing. A central goal of usability testing is to experiment, to challenge our ideas and gauge if we got it right or if we have further work to do. This means we put a prototype – either mockups or actual working software – into users’ hands and ask them to perform a series of tasks with it. Often users will talk out loud and explain what they are trying to accomplish as they play with the prototype. Between that narration and what we observe, we glean rich and nuanced information. Wherever the user struggles we spot opportunities to improve, because we’re testing the design, not the user, after all. We regularly share summaries of our usability testing findings at Sprint Reviews and other checkpoints with core county representatives. Here is an example report on some testing, involving 149 users in 6 counties, we conducted earlier this year:

 

How are we able to reach out to and do testing with so many users? The answer brings us to the most exciting aspect of our approach to user-centered design: Our core county representatives (13, across 6 counties) not only coordinate site visits, but also, after a bit of training and practice, conduct the testing themselves! Because of their backgrounds in social work they are great listeners, exceptional testers and full partners in design thinking. They make sure caseworkers and supervisors stay right where they belong: at the heart of our work.

Core County Representatives Show Their Skill at Conducting Usability Testing

 

Case Commons https://www.casecommons.org is privileged to be part of CWDS, working in partnership with a mix of vendors to deliver an open source digital service for California’s child welfare system. Case Commons is a nonprofit social venture. We build user-centered software for human services. Our motto is “Helping the helpers.” Our mission is to promote best practice and improve outcomes for at-need children, families and populations.

Want real-time updates from CWDS? Follow us!

Now more than ever, CWDS is focusing on our social media channels for sharing information in real-time with our stakeholders and the general public. In the spirit of Agile methodology and project transparency, we are using social media as way to reach more people, more quickly, every day.

Whether you work on the project, or serve on the front line protecting children in one of California’s 58 counties, you can keep up our efforts to replace the CWS / CMS system by following us on Twitter @ca_cwds, Facebook www.facebook.com/CaliforniaCWDS and LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/company/child-welfare-digital-services.

Moreover, vendors looking for information on current solicitations, state employees looking for promotional opportunities, other stakeholders interested in our latest project reports or social workers wanting to see our most recent CWDS developments can find this information by following us on our social media channels.

We also produce and host a variety of project-related videos on our CWDS YouTube channel. If you’re looking for more in-depth project content including system demonstrations and stakeholder meetings, please subscribe to our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdoOvrtXKH1NacC4T85sADQ/videos

 

CWDS Seeks Project Director

With the recent internal promotion of its project director, Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) is recruiting to fill the key position that runs day-to-day operations overseeing the administrative and customer support functions of the project to replace California’s legacy child welfare system for county social workers.

“We are looking for a talented leader to join California’s largest and most innovative project, the focus of national attention as government seeks to fundamentally change the way we do business,” said Office of Systems Integration (OSI) Director John Boule. “This is an exciting opportunity to serve the public, to give back while being part of this monumental initiative.”

With a staff of  more than 70, which includes the Project Management Office (PMO), the project director is responsible for overseeing contract management, budgeting, human resources, customer relations, state and federal reporting and the project’s overall implementation.

The project director, officially classified as a Data Processing Manager IV, will work alongside the product director, both reporting to recently promoted Office of Systems Integration Deputy Director Tony Fortenberry. CWDS is preparing for a national recruitment effort to fill the product director position.

“We are looking for a candidate who thrives on collaboration and can build strong relationships with the user community and county stakeholders,” said OSI Chief Deputy Director Peter Kelly. “This individual must be a champion of best practices, an effective planner and decision maker, and be a strong advocate for using technology to support the mission of social workers to protect California’s children.”

As a part of the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) within OSI, CWDS is developing a modern platform and infrastructure to replace the 20-year-old legacy child welfare management system used by county case workers. The project consists of eight digital services to replace the Child Welfare System/ Case Management System (CWS/CMS) that manages work for county child protective services programs, foster home approvals and licensing, and other critical functions that allow case workers to protect children.

CWDS is pioneering the development and operation of cloud-based software in the public sector, following a DevOps project lifecycle rather than a traditional design, development and implementation (DDI) / maintenance and operations (M&O) model. The project is taking an innovative new approach for California state government, using agile methodologies, free/open source software (FOSS) and user-centered design.

In November of 2015, after a decade of planning, the project changed its development strategy from the traditional “waterfall” approach to using agile methodologies which focus on iterative development cycles and a rapid feedback loop with end-users. Agile teams work in two-week sprints with daily status meetings to measure progress. With the project’s first code release in March, teams of state staff and contractors, including designers, developers and project managers, have been working toward full velocity under the new approach. Momentum is building as more developer teams are joining the effort each month.

[For additional information, see the job flyer here.  The state job announcement is here. ]

News Clips – Government Technology: Agile Acquisitions: Rethinking Public-Sector Purchasing

Cover Story: California was featured in the September issue of Government Technology:

For years the state of California has been doing multi-year, multimillion-dollar software projects, only to find that many of them don’t produce the results the state had hoped for. They take too long to plan and execute, and cost more than expected. “Customers have one consistent thing they tell us: You gave me what I asked for, but it is not really what I wanted,” said Peter Kelly, chief deputy director for the California Health and Human Services Agency’s Office of Systems Integration (OSI).   Read the entire story published by Government Technology.

 

California Health and Human Services Agency Announces Appointments

The California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) today announced two key appointments at the Office of Systems Integration (OSI), Adam Dondro as agency information officer (AIO) and Tony Fortenberry as deputy director for the Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) project.

Agency Information Officer Adam Dondro

Dondro will oversee the technology and governance functions within the agency.  As AIO, he will provide oversight and coordination for the strategy and activities of information technology (IT) offices throughout the agency, its constituent departments, and electronic interface partners.  He will also lead the agency’s governance structure to plan enterprise direction, coordinate the handling of critical IT policy issues, and lead the development of IT business and tactical plans.

“Adam’s enterprise view of data, architecture and planning will serve us well as OSI supports the critical systems on which so many Californians depend,” said OSI Director John Boule.  “His emphasis on efficiency, innovation and customer service will benefit the departments we serve.”

Since 2013, Dondro served as the assistant director for horizontal integration at California Department of Social Services.  From 2010 to 2013, he served as the assistant secretary for external affairs at the California Technology Agency.  His experience also includes five years in the Legislature in both policy and budget roles.

Based at OSI headquarters, Dondro leads a team of 15 staff who work directly with department chief information officers, chief technology officers and enterprise architects throughout CHHS.

Recently appointed as OSI deputy director, Fortenberry has served as project director for CWDS for the past year.  He is a veteran technology executive with more than 25 years of experience working in the industry, including ten years of experience with California state government working in roles in IT procurement, contract management, vendor performance evaluation, and Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V).

“I am pleased to have Tony join OSI as a deputy director to lead this innovative project,” said OSI Director John Boule.   “Tony’s vast experience in product design, organizational strategy, agile methodologies and open source software is a tremendous resource for our agency.”

OSI Deputy Director Tony Fortenberry

Fortenberry has worked extensively as a management consultant, technology advisor, and procurement specialist for California government agencies, healthcare services providers, and nonprofit organizations.  Prior to serving as project director for CWDS, he worked on various projects at CalPERS, CalHEERS, the California Horse Racing Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Public Utilities Commission and California Department of Technology, among others.   Career highlights include serving as chief technology officer for Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), based in Austin, Texas, and as chief information officer for the City of Northglenn, Colorado.

“Tony provided steady leadership and tremendous insight as we launched California’s first major project using agile methodologies,” said OSI Chief Deputy Director Peter Kelly.   “His unwavering commitment to the project and staff will serve us well.”

As a part of CHHS within the Office of Systems Integration, Child Welfare Digital Services is developing a modern platform and infrastructure to replace a 20-year-old legacy child welfare management system used by county case workers.   The project consists of eight digital services to replace the Child Welfare System/ Case Management System (CWS/CMS) that manages work for county child protective services programs, foster home approvals and licensing, and other critical functions that allow case workers to protect children.

In November of 2015, after a decade of planning, the project changed its development strategy from the traditional “waterfall” approach to using agile methodologies which focus on iterative development cycles and a rapid feedback loop with end-users.  Agile teams work in two-week sprints with daily status meetings to measure progress.  With the project’s first code release in March, teams of state staff and contractors, including designers, developers and project managers, have been working toward full velocity under the new approach.  Momentum is building as more developer teams are joining the effort each month.

Fortenberry joins Department of Social Services Deputy Director Kevin Gaines and County Welfare Directors Association Executive Liaison Penni Clarke as members of the project’s Executive Leadership Team.

Partnership Opportunity: CWDS is hiring an Agile Coach

CWDS is hiring a second Agile Coach to support our Digital Service Teams.

The CWDS project consists of eight digital services to replace the legacy system that manages casework for county child protective services programs, foster home approvals and licensing, and other critical functions that allow case workers to protect children.   With the project’s first code release in March, teams of state staff and contractors, including designers, developers and project managers, have been working to get started under the new approach.  Momentum is building as more developer teams will be hired in the coming months.

In November of 2015, the project changed its development strategy from the traditional “waterfall” approach to using agile methodologies which focus on iterative development cycles and a rapid feedback loop with end-users.  Agile teams work in two-week sprints with daily status meetings to measure progress.  The new approach includes DevOps teams, placing a strong emphasis on collaboration between network engineers, developers, business program managers and state and county subject matter experts.

See more details about the Agile Coach opportunity under open procurements at: