Government – especially state and local government – is uniquely positioned to create and deliver solutions to some of society’s greatest issues. The mayors of New York City and Seattle just recently noted at the United States Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting that, shaped by technology, local government is, indeed, at the forefront of change.
Solving for emerging issues — from global child welfare to challenges much closer to home — starts with the notion of expanded data use. Knowing what data you have and taking the next step to envision its higher use, creating new stakeholders and partners along the way, is an approach that can work to solve for issues that matter most in your jurisdiction.
The unique model of the non-profit Both Ends Believing (BEB) provides compelling — and inspiring — proof that employing modern technology to maximize government data can, in fact, move the needle on emerging issues; in this case, a critical humanitarian one.
Software and Strategy
Local jurisdictions grappling with their own unique issues, from homelessness to food shortages to the opioid crisis, are beginning to leverage technology and partnerships for sustainable solutions. The same holds true around the world. In countries that are confronting a child welfare crisis, the lack of technology to organize information has been a major stumbling block to family preservation, reunification, and child-focused permanency planning. The biggest barrier to getting orphans into families is data – its inadequacy or the inability to access it in electronic form. This inaccessibility, often due to siloed data, is a common hurdle for local governments in the U.S.
In an instructive example, Both Ends Believing developed a software platform, Children First Software, that removes this barrier by building accurate data that helps countries:
- Assess and monitor child welfare populations
- Reunify children with their families
- Connect children to a permanent adopted family
This platform is free for countries with little or no child welfare infrastructure.
“We saw that there was an opportunity to confront the global child welfare crisis from an innovative tech foundation,” notes Frank Garrott, BEB’s chief operating officer. “Technology and collaboration can provide the world’s children with their fundamental right to healthy development from a safe family environment.”
“All governments collect data on children,” notes BEB President Mark Schwartz. “That government data provides food and medicine and other useful things. What’s unique about Children First is that the software is modular, and we keep it simple. We enable governments to create a path to get a child out of an orphanage into a permanent home with critical case monitoring.”
The unique software creates an electronic record of each orphaned child that gives him or her a trackable identity that lays the foundation for all phases of activity through permanent placement. The end-to-end technology enables social workers to create timely, well-informed permanency plans for each child and supports post-placement follow up. A reporting module and a mobile version of the software are in the works.
“While ‘data,’ ‘software,’ and ‘technology’ are not necessarily words that stir the heart,” says Garrott, “words like ‘scalability’ and ‘sustainability’ do get our blood pumping.” BEB trains users and provides post-implementation support as long as necessary.
BEB works at the federal government level through MOUs to ensure that each effort is countrywide. Once the software implementation is initiated, it becomes embedded and knowledge transfer begins to take place. The use of the software becomes a daily part of how child welfare ministries do their work.
Although BEB’s efforts through the software are only four years old, placements and reunifications are already happening. In 2019, for example, 100% of the more than 3,000 children in institutions in the Dominican Republic had digital profiles. An astonishing 512 were placed with families: 128 through adoption and 384 through family reunification. In Honduras, which has 8,000 in institutions, 37% have digital profiles and 42 have been placed with families: 25 through adoption and 17 through family reunification. Early efforts in Uganda have led to 56 trained social workers and children in 18 facilities receiving profiles.
These numbers represent life-changing successes. “There’s nothing like seeing your software get children on a path to families,” says Schwartz.
In addition to partnering with governments, BEB is supported by its partnership with a public sector technology company, which has provided pro bono software manpower and expertise.
In the same way that international governments collect data that can be put to higher use, so, too, do local governments. In fact, it’s often reported that governments are this country’s biggest producers of data. According to GovTech, more than half of states now employ a chief data officer in recognition of data as a major strategic asset for us – something that can inform policy and improve service delivery.
It begs the question: How can you use your data to make it actionable in a way that solves problems or improves lives?
Tyler Kleykamp, founder and director of the State Chief Data Officers Network, explained that government data follows traditional asset management: maintaining data, accounting for data, and putting it to its highest and best use.
Government leaders across the country have made great strides in using their data to meet specific performance or program goals, but it often stops there. The next step is to ask, “Is there life beyond that?” for your data.
“States are beginning to realize that data is more than just a thing they collect to do their business and administer programs,” noted Kleykamp. “It has value beyond the purpose for which it was initially collected.”
As the impact of BEB shows, there’s more to just data collection in government. Meeting one objective with data is good. Connecting the dots to realize data’s maximum potential is life-changing.
What creative mix of software and strategy can solve your community’s problems or improve your constituents’ lives? An exciting opportunity awaits around every corner when governments employ modern technology to elevate issues and solve problems.
About the Author
Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting, and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies