When Partners for Our Children, a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Washington, approached us to help them develop an online records system to better connect several government agencies and providers that serve children, it presented an incredible opportunity to use our capabilities in the nonprofit sector.
The group wanted to streamline record-keeping among several groups, including the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration, and service providers statewide. The ideal solution would be a digital, mobile system that could be easily accessed among professionals who work with vulnerable families.
With Partners for Our Children, we outlined multiple goals with this project, including improving data collection and visibility. We needed to create a streamlined system that multiple nonprofits and government agencies could access via mobile devices. This would help their employees quickly find and update client records, and free up more of their time to spend with children and families.
Together, we helped Partners for Our Children develop a platform to support the business processes of service providers and case workers statewide, while it also cleaned up data and analytics. The new app helps service providers find client histories fast, accurately access and update their cases, and also reduces paperwork. It saves nonprofit providers in child and family services valuable time that is better spent helping clients, about 100,000 families each year.
Transforming the paper trail
We collaborated with Partners for Our Children’s internal stakeholders, policy experts, and user groups in the social services industry to develop our product strategy. Once we reviewed the project challenges and objectives, we identified several areas where we could help: Reducing duplicate entries, making forms easier to use, and improving performance reporting and compliance.
Our team developed a prototype, supported by strategic documents, to illustrate the program’s digital goals to their funders in the most compelling way possible. Once initial program funding was secured, we paired user-centered design exercises with quick, iterative development sessions to develop new features. We also had to ensure it would work well across a multitude of devices since service providers statewide would be accessing it via iOS and Android.
The updated system, dubbed “Oliver,” had its first program components delivered in under six months, a fast-moving solution in an industry not known for speed.
Change for the better
Once launched, Partners for Our Children’s affiliates were excited to use the system, especially the simple, three-page app that allowed them to update supervised visitations.
In 2016, Pacific Northwest new site Crosscut covered the updated system’s improvements: “All of this used to be done on pen and paper or in a clunky Microsoft Word document. With Oliver, however, it can be done on anything with a web browser — smartphone, tablet, laptop — through an interface that’s designed to be easy-to-use.”
Abraham Ray, former director of technology for Partners for Our Children, told Crosscut that using Oliver was “just as easy, if not easier, than ordering something off Amazon or booking a ticket on Alaska Airlines.”
Crosscut also interviewed social workers who commented on the improvements.
Anna Thomson from Olive Crest South Sound, a faith-based organization that serves vulnerable families in Tacoma, told Crosscut that the differences were significant. In its first year of use, she estimates that the software cut back-end work on visitations by half, allowing them to “cleanly and efficiently” process paperwork and free up supervisor time to “allow them to be more present during the visit.”
The system launched with more than 8,000 children enrolled into the digital database to track their progress. We then expanded it to support digital record-keeping for runaway homeless youth and young adults, and foster care services.
“The responsiveness of the team, the access to the CEO and the leadership team at any point in time, the welcoming aspect of our teams inside your offices,” said Ray about our services. “[Substantial is] definitely the model, the bar to hold everybody up to.”