California’s child welfare services had a problem. Well, several problems. Their 20,000 social workers were tracking over 500,000 cases of child abuse and neglect reported every year on outdated software. Their contracting document was over 1,500 pages long, so it was difficult to even hire someone to fix it. Much less to fix it. Enter 18F. Because they are dedicated to making government work better. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to fix the process that we use to solve problems. And bringing the 1,500 pages of government contracting documents down to 10 pages certainly qualifies as making government work better.

And that’s only the beginning. 18F was able to work with Code for America, the Department of Health and Human Services, and California’s Department of Social Services and Office of Systems Integration to do more than simply contracting documents. They’ve also incorporated “modular contracting, agile development, user-centered design, and open source practices into their project.”

This all sounds good, but it’s a little vague right? But here’s the trick: process changes like this can make everything better. In this case, it will likely “produce greater vendor competition, tremendous cost savings, a vastly improved product, and result in a better contracting experience for California’s Department of Social Services.” Which means that child welfare services can spend more time helping children and families, and less time processing paperwork.

18F has done an incredible job of explaining exactly how they did this.  But we’re more excited about what happens next. Very few companies are able to get through 1,500 pages of contracting documents, and even fewer want to. Especially for small businesses, it can be almost impossible to wade through that legalese to determine whether they even can apply, much less how to. And this is a huge problem for everyone of us, whether we work for a small business or not, because they offer innovative and exciting solutions. When government is only able to work with huge companies, we only get their ideas. We need everyone’s ideas to help us ImagineGov better.

It can seem uninspiring. But it’s actually one of our best answers: When we want to improve a program or policy, first start with the process by which it comes to be. You may find millions of dollars we can reallocate, better vendors, and improved morale right there, waiting to be picked.

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