Child Welfare Technology in California, Part Two

Dan Hon describes the development of child welfare technology in California.

Read my previous post, A New Approach to Procuring Government Technology in California.

Last Friday, I was at the new Child Welfare Service vendor forum at California’s Department for Social Services. It was a chance for the State to explain the shift from a monolithic, waterfall procurement to a modularized, agile and iterative procurement that delivers services – not products and solutions – putting users needs at the heart of the job.

I’m incredibly proud of the leadership from the Department of Social Services (represented by Deputy Chief Pat Leary, with Director Will Lightbourne in the room), their sister office the Office of Systems Integration (represented by their director, John Boule), the California Health and Human Services Agency, the Government Operations Agency, the Department of Technology, and the County Welfare Directors Association of California.

I can’t emphasize how much of a big deal it was to hear leadership saying how important it is for them to understanding and meeting their user’ needs.

At CA Gov vendor forum for new Child Welfare Services: John Boule “it’s about meeting user needs, and doing the user research”
— Dan Hon is typing (@hondanhon) December 4, 2015

Pat Leary, Chief Deputy at DSS: “This is our chance to understand what our users need, what they want, to do their job successfully”
— Dan Hon is typing (@hondanhon) December 4, 2015

Together, government, county, and project leaders showed a massive commitment to agile, iterative service delivery. They’re also committed to continually improve the services and tools that case workers at the county and state level need to do their job of safeguarding children who are at risk.

And it wasn’t just the government: the forum was packed. It was standing room in the auditorium at 744 P Street, which holds about 130 people sitting down. The Lync remote web conference had around 130 people taking part, too. It was fantastic to see such interest from the development and vendor community.

I can’t emphasize enough how much of what’s happening is a team effort across many Californian counties, state agencies, departments, and offices, as well as at the Federal level with the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, and 18F Consulting. Every single member of this large team has a passion for doing it right. And this is a great opportunity for California to lead the way by defaulting to commodity open source software and open standards.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone is going into this with rose-tinted glasses or with undue optimism. Everyone I’ve spoken to is aware that this approach requires the state and counties to develop and maintain new skills and capabilities that are needed to deliver modern services that work. And keep delivering them and improving them, too.

If the team I’ve been working with thought this would be easy, or that they wouldn’t need to change, then I’d be worried. But they’re not: they’re embracing change. Sure they’re nervous. But they’re excited, too, and they’ve got the energy and passion for it. They know that they’ll be going through this process of trying new things and learning how to do them in partnership with vendors and federal assistance in the short term to make them internal capabilities in the long term.

And for developers and vendors? I hope today showed the massive, real opportunity for new (and old!) vendors to work with state government in new, better and more collaborative ways.

This is why it was so important to hear from leaders like Pat Leary and John Boule that the state “gets it” about understanding their users’ needs and enabling an environment that will deliver the software, tools and services that meets those needs early and often.

The State announced that there’ll be a follow-up web conference soon where they’ll be able to take questions. In the meantime, they’ve invited questions over email at

Oh, and one last thing:


This is what transforming government looks like: one team, with people from all across county, state, and Federal government working together at the end of an intensive two-day workshop, and at the same time at the beginning of something that won’t ever be finished.


Update, 9 December 2015: read the presentation (PDF) from the 4 December vendor forum.


  • A New Approach to Procuring Government Technology in California [link]