Design Thinking Applied to Meetings


As CWDS User Research & Design Director, I often say “everything is experience design,” not just the digital services we are building, but also way we work together to deliver those services. Recently I shared at a recent All Staff Meeting to explain how our team has been able to leverage User Experience (UX) Design principles and techniques to improve the experience and   usefulness of the organizations All-Staff Meeting.

This announcement was the first of a newly revamped All Staff Meeting designed to make better use of staff time and connect us all to our product vision. CWDS Executives asked me to form an ad hoc team to redesign the meeting, which had over 100 attendees and had grown stale as our team had grown in size and mission. The ad hoc meeting redesign team included representatives from the Project Management Office (PMO), Communications Team, and the User Research and Design Team. Our first step was to identify the problem space: morale and attendance concerns, meeting format effectiveness, effort to produce the meeting vs benefits of holding it, and understanding who champions the meeting design.

The next step was identifying research goals: understanding attendees’ experience of what’s working and what isn’t, solicit improvement ideas, and relating the All-Staff to overall organizational communication. Research methods consisted of a “flash survey to get a quick pulse and set a quantitative baseline, and one-on-one user interviews with a dozen people representing different attendee groups from across the organization. The team then synthesized the research to surface pain points and insights.

Based on the research results and brainstorming ways to address the pain points and needs of attendees the Communications Team, is now empowered to  own the meeting, to creatively structure it  to address  themes in a now one-hour meeting to be held no more than once a month. The themes are:

  • Vision and Mission
  • Product Progress
  • Celebrate Our Team
  • Living Our Values/Culture
  • General Announcements

CWDS is excited to apply experience design principles to all areas of our operations, not just how we design and develop software for our users. It makes for a more engaged work environment where people are collaborative, accountable, and empowered.

About the Author:  

Jesse Taggert is the Director of User Research & Design at Child Welfare Digital Services.  She has more than 25 years of experience as a design leader, user researcher, ux designer, visual designer, and communications strategist.  Recently, she completed a two-year engagement serving the federal government as an Innovation Specialist/Strategist at 18F where she led the consulting group’s design and product strategy.

CWDS Reaches Milestone of First Software Release

Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) has reached a major milestone, delivering the project’s first software release for testing and technical feasibility to a small subset of county users. The Intake Digital Service team has developed the ability for end users to securely log on to the CWS-New System, as well as the ability to search for people. The new search functionality is far more powerful than the legacy system, and with user testing and feedback, it will enhance case workers’ ability to more quickly locate individuals in the child welfare system.

“We have reached a significant technical milestone, building the foundation to deliver state-of-the-art digital services and connecting the legacy database to our new platform that will provide modern tools for case workers to help protect children,” said Project Director Tony Fortenberry.

For this software release, the Intake Core County team members include Butte, Yolo, Santa Cruz, Fresno, Ventura, and Los Angeles. This small sample of end users will provide feedback and validate that the functionality is working properly, with the next step to include users in additional counties.

While seemingly limited in scope, these basic features require a complex technical foundation to allow the digital service to interact with the legacy CWS/CMS database in a production environment. This first release demonstrates that the underpinnings of the development strategy are sound, and will allow the project to ramp up additional functionality much more rapidly. In November of 2015, the project changed its development strategy from the traditional “waterfall” approach to using agile methodology, the first such major project in California state government to do so.

“We are actively delivering software much faster than we would have if we had stayed the course with the monolithic procurement and waterfall development model,” said Peter Kelly, OSI Chief Deputy Director. “By leveraging agile development methods, we are nimble and better able to meet the ever-changing needs of our end users."

The effort to replace the legacy CWS/CMS system began in 2002 with the CWS/CMS Strategic Plan to modernize the system, leading to the CWS Web project, approved in 2004. The California Legislature cancelled the project in 2011, due to budget constraints, and required a study of CWS/CMS to answer specific question related to the existing system and approaches to address missing functionality. The Child Welfare Services – New System (CWS-NS) project received budget approval to move forward in 2013. Late in 2015, the state chose to take the project in a different direction by cancelling its planned procurement of a single implementation vendor, which would not have delivered working software for end users until 2019, in favor of modular procurement and Agile software development that emphasizes user research, user experience (UX) design, and puts working software in the hands of users much sooner.

Bill Maile Joins CWDS as Communications Director

Bill Maile will lead communications across the project, working closely with CWDS teams and project stakeholders. Bill has more than 15 years of experience working for the State of California. For the past five years, he was editor of TechWire, a technology trade publication he founded in 2011. Prior to 2011, he served as director of communications at the California Technology Agency, among other assignments in the executive and legislative branches of state government. Throughout his career, Bill has been a strong advocate for increasing government transparency and leveraging technology and innovation to maximize efficiency in government programs. CWDS is excited to have him on board.

CWDS Selects OnCore Consulting for Intake Implementation

CWDS has selected OnCore Consulting, based in Folsom, CA, to provide implementation services for the Intake Digital Service. Intake is the process by which child welfare professionals in California’s county Child Welfare Agencies investigate allegations of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The new Intake Digital Service will be an easy-to-navigate and efficient way to record and access information regarding child abuse, neglect, exploitation allegations, investigative findings, and outcomes. The new service will provide comprehensive information that allows child welfare professionals to make timely, informed decisions regarding child safety.

OnCore will assist with the deployment of the Intake service to the Intake user community, which consists of up to 7,000 staff located across the state. Additionally, up to 18,000 additional Child Welfare Services staff (social workers, public health nurses, probation officers, supervisors, and support staff) access Intake information in the course of their daily work. OnCore will join the CWDS Implementation Team to perform a wide array of implementation services:

  • General Implementation Services
  • Organizational Change Management
  • System Training (Design, Development, & Delivery)
  • Rollout/Go-Live Support

CWDS is excited to welcome OnCore onboard as of January 24, 2017, and to being one step closer to putting working software in the hands of our user.

Jesse Taggert Joins CWDS as our First Service Design and User Research Director

Jesse Taggert will lead and develop user research practices and design across all areas of the project, working closely with CWDS teams and vendors. Jesse has over 25 years of experience as a design leader, user researcher, ux designer, visual designer, and communications strategist. She is passionate about product strategy, research, user experience design, creative direction, content strategy /communications, and productive stakeholder/client relations. Jesse recently completed a two year engagement serving the federal government as an Innovation Specialist/Strategist at 18F where she led the consulting group’s design and product strategy. CWDS is excited to have her on board.

CWDS Presents Quarterly Update to Legislature

Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) Executives are at the State Capitol today to brief the Joint Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee on the overall status of the CWDS Child Welfare Services – New System project. Scheduled for 3:00 on the subcommittee’s agenda, CWDS Executives will discuss the project vision and strategy, progress to date, where we are headed, and lessons learned on shifting to an agile development framework. A copy of the presentation can be found here. The briefing is open to the public. CWDS will be following up today’s briefing by hosting a quarterly stakeholder forum on January 10 to cover this information and more details with our stakeholders at our Sacramento campus or via webinar. See the news item from December 15, 2016, (below) for more information and how to register by Friday, December 23.

CWDS to Hold Quarterly Stakeholder Forum

Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) will be hosting a Quarterly Stakeholder Forum on 1/10/17 from approximately 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

This all-day event will be held onsite at the CWDS campus in Sacramento as well as via video conference. The agenda will include a general session with a project update and multiple breakout sessions focusing on Intake, Licensing, Program Policy, Tools, Testing, Implementation, and other project related information.

We will send a detailed agenda once it is final. To register, please complete the following survey by Friday, December 23 to indicate whether you will be able to join us in person, via webinar, or if you will not be attending, but would like to be included on our mailing list: Register for Stakeholder Forum.

CWDS Plans Kick-Off Meetings for Certification, Approval, and Licensing Services

CWDS will hold core constituent kick-off meetings for Certification, Approval, and Licensing Services (CALS) in early to mid-December. Participants include Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties as well as the Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) of the Department of Social Services (DSS).

The kick-off meetings will welcome aboard these constituents who will work with CWDS in the development and delivery of solutions for resource family home approval and residential facility licensing. These solutions will enable each of the 58 county child welfare, probation agencies, and Title IV-E Tribes to make the best, informed decisions regarding the safe placement of children. The meetings will cover several key topics:

  • Introduction and Welcome from our Executive Leadership Team (ELT)
  • Organization Structure: Building of a structure that is inclusive of the constituents
  • What is ‘Agile’?: How the agile methodology provides value to the constituents
  • Roles and Responsibilities: How the constituents will participate in development from conception to delivery

Meetings are currently scheduled with Orange and Los Angeles Counties on 12/8/16, and with San Francisco County on 12/13/16. CWDS will also meet with the Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) of the Department of Social Services (DSS) on 12/15/16. A meeting with San Mateo County is also planned but the date has not yet been set.

CWDS Embarks on UX Site Visits for Intake

The CWDS Intake Development user experience design (UX) team is in Los Angeles County this week for the first of six user research site visits. These site visits provide user research staff an opportunity to better understand the intake process which includes the investigation of allegations identified on a referral. User research staff will interview and job shadow both hotline and investigative workers as well as invite feedback on mocks/wireframes related to screening and basic search functionality. During these visits County leadership will be given the opportunity to express their vision for the Intake Digital Services. The six core counties for the CWDS Intake Digital Service include Los Angeles, Fresno, Ventura, Santa Cruz, Yolo, and Butte.

CWDS Quarterly Stakeholder Forum

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) will hold a quarterly forum to provide updates on the Child Welfare Services – New System (CWS-NS) project and the progress of the Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) team on Thursday, September 29 from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. at the California State Capitol, room 317.

The forum will include updates on the following topics:

  • Progress of the CWS-NS development and implementation
  • Expenditures incurred to date
  • Significant issues and risks overcome in the last quarter and significant issues and risks presently being addressed
  • Upcoming project milestones and significant events
  • How the agile approach has affected the project’s overall cost and schedule
  • How the Department of Technology’s approval and oversight processes are being applied to the agile implementation approach
  • How lessons learned from the agile implementation of the CWS-NS project can be leveraged by other state IT projects.

This briefing meets the requirements of AB 1603 (Committee on Budget, Chapter 25, Statutes of 2016) and is open to the general public. A copy of the briefing presentation is available for download here:

CWDS Quarterly Stakeholder Forum 2016/17 Q1