ChildStory: case study in innovation, technology and user design

By Tom Burton

Saturday November 21, 2015

One of the leading examples of large scale technology innovation in social services, the NSW ChildStory program, has awarded its major tenders for a new $100 million technology platform to support case workers looking after children at risk.

Darling Harbour based, US cloud vendor, Salesforce, has won the core contract for the case management module, service portals, and mobility. Local IT provider, Squiz is to build the enterprise search system to track the wide variety of information needed by case workers to best manage vulnerable children. Ernst and Young’s data analytics firm, EYC3 has won the data migration work. The new platform will also include a family of mobile apps to aid in-the-field case workers.

It will replace a multitude of ageing and disconnected legacy systems, that meant case workers were spending huge amounts of time communicating and co-ordinating with the multitude of agencies they need to deal with, such as police, courts, health and schools. This often meant vital information for managing children at risk was not reaching the right agencies or was delayed.

The ChildStory program is part of a broader $500 million reform called Safe Home for Life, a state wide initiative which is being driven by the NSW Family and Community Services department to overhaul child protection.

“The Safe Home for Life reforms are about giving children safe permanent homes that enables them to not only survive but to thrive,” Department of Family and Community Services secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter said. “Critical to that having technology that supports the work we want to do, that starts from the perspective of the child and young person.

The ChildStory program has been closely watched as a leading example of rethinking service delivery, using a highly innovative user centric design and collaboration approach to find solutions for what has often been intractable problems of helping children at risk because of family and other issues.

The programs name came from the strategic intent of building a solution that put children at the heart of the design and sought to closely map the journey of vulnerable child.

The map of the child journey identified the keys needs and personas and was used to underpin build a co-design program, which ChildStory director Greg Wells said included over 270 workshops around the state, 300  interviews and 58 work-shadows, where front line staff were watched closely to understand their needs and the critical issue of building trust relationships with families and young people.

Rather than tightly specify the requirements of the technology, the Childstory team went to market midyear with nine broad technology bundles, based on the needs identified through the design and discovery process.

A total of 28 providers — ranging from consultants like Deloitte, SMS and EY to tech giants such as IBM and Salesforce — responded with their best solutions to these needs.

As part of the co-design strategy, the selection process was strongly driven by front line staff with staff seconded to the tender evaluation and demonstration process to fine tune the requirements and features they believed to be most important.

Announcing the selection of the technologies Coutts-Trotter said front line staff are “convinced Salesforce is the right answer and will save them time and will enable them to get out and have and hold intimate relationships with the children we serve.”

“You know from the name that Salesforce didn’t begin its life in social services, but its a global firm with incredible resources, vast experience and it is now starting to acquire experience in service delivery in South Australia, Victoria and elsewhere in the world.”

“I think the fundamental here is, no  selection of technologies no matter how brilliant they are can change practice. The system can enable that and that is vitally important, but it can’t create great practice without the leadership and participation of the people in the field.”

There will now be an implementation study with the providers to work through the best way to roll out the new platform, with full rollout expected to be completed in two years and the overall life of the program slated for an eight year horizon.

Another feature of the ChildStory project has been the use of a website to openly communicate with the multitude of internal and external stakeholders, using simple blogs and videos to communicate and engage.

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