The Colorado Digital Service was an experiment that began with a simple hypothesis; if we could attract tech talent using a “tour of service” model and couple it with modern software delivery practices, like product management and human-centered design, we could help to improve the experience for people engaging with government services.
We’ve shown that this model works. The bet that Governor Polis and the Legislature placed on us has delivered a solid return on investment. Here are some highlights from 2020:
- We scrubbed in on Exposure Notifications with Apple and Google, which are used by more than one million Coloradans to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
- We partnered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) to help procure and launch the Dr. Justina case investigation and contact tracing system across all 53 county Local Public Health Agencies (LPHA)s. This effort saved millions of dollars and allowed LPHAs to coordinate their response to COVID-19 by sharing data with one another. Hundreds of thousands of contact tracing interviews have been logged in the system to date.
- We leveraged user research to lead the strategic procurement of the Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) grants management system. These funds help reduce juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system and support victim service programs by distributing over $60 million dollars to more than 300 grantees across Colorado.
- We partnered with 18F and members of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) and Joint Technology Committee (JTC) to discuss agile budgeting and how to oversee and create accountability for technology projects.
- Stephanie Cain, User Experience (UX) Lead, was elected to the Agile Government Leaders board of directors as the Public Sector Representative.
- We hosted a Denver Startup Week panel on our COVID-19 efforts that included panelists Sarah Tuneberg and Brad Feld.
- We’ve built a talent pipeline of hundreds of Colorado’s best engineers, designers, and product managers by being active in Slack channels and the Colorado technology community.
- We’ve published blog posts and articles on building diverse teams in civic technology and have been mentioned in articles about transforming digital government in the Washington Post, Associated Press (AP), StateScoop, and more.
- We continue to embed with the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and the child welfare case management system to improve the technology that helps more than 5,000 case workers and partners serve thousands of children and families in the child welfare system.
With strong technology talent within the Colorado Office of Information Technology (OIT) and vendor teams, it has been argued that experiments like the digital service aren’t necessary. This year has proven that it takes a village to deliver great services to Coloradans — from state agency delivery teams with strong product, UX, and engineering talent to collaborating with other states and working with volunteer tech corps like the US Digital Response.
We’ve also seen firsthand the impact of “software is eating government” (a remix of the phrase coined by Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape). Software has begun to permeate every aspect of our lives and is fundamentally changing business models. We cannot afford to ignore technology as we deliver government services.
It used to be that an expert in public health or Medicaid or criminal justice could run a program that delivered a service to residents. Now, this program needs a website, which requires a login, Google Analytics, and security that prevents ransomware attacks. That service needs a strategy set by a product owner and must meet the needs of the people it serves. The team is being asked about APIs and data-driven decisions. They are reading articles about machine learning and ethics and wondering how to apply it to their program.
As software continues to eat government, there’s a strong need for technology talent at every level and in every agency.
As anyone in civic tech will tell you, delivering on agency projects is just one piece of the puzzle. We want to help rethink how the government buys digital services and bring top tech talent into civic service. And we want to create momentum in unique ways that complement all of the great work Colorado is doing.
After a little more than a year, the digital service remains a small but mighty, multidisciplinary team that combines procurement, product, user experience, and engineering. But we’ve also managed to build a superpower that helps us scale — an incredibly strong civic tech network of policy wonks, full-stack developers, bureaucracy hackers, UX designers, DevSecOps engineers, and more from New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, etc. by working closely with the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, and with volunteer teams like the Citizen Software Engineers, Code for America, and the U.S. Digital Response. We’re all working on solving the same problems and the national civic tech network continues to open doors for us and accelerate our thinking.
CDS wants to say thank you to all of those who’ve supported us this past year and given guidance. Thank you to all of the State of Colorado employees that partnered with us. And, thank you to those of you that continue to follow us and be interested in our work. We know that you have allowed us to work on projects that impacted Coloradans and saved millions of dollars.
So, what’s next?
- We’re hiring an Engineering Lead, join us! If now’s not the right time, then follow us on GitHub, Linkedin, or Twitter to stay connected and to help us share our work in Colorado and beyond.
- In 2021, we’re focused on:
- Continuing to bring great tech folks into government;
- Continuing to support the COVID-19 response;
- Supporting Colorado’s child welfare program;
- And more!