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California's Agile Child Welfare Project Awards Bid to CivicActions

The company will serve a central role amid other vendors working to set up a new child welfare system for a project the state is watching as a possible new way of approaching tech.

The California Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) project, which the state government’s technology officials are treating as a pilot for agile methods, has awarded an early contract for development operations to CivicActions.

Aaron Pava, chief experience officer of CivicActions and a former U.S. Digital Service employee, said the company will be following the USDS and 18F’s “digital services playbook” in its new role within the CWDS project. Specifically, it will treat its code as being open to the public by default, and it will seek to automate testing and deployment.

“It’s really about creating this culture and environment where you can build, test and release code in rapid iterations,” Pava said.

The CivicActions contract has an initial ceiling of $680,000, with extension options that could extend the limit to $4.8 million.

The CWDS project involves overhauling eight pieces of the state’s child welfare system, including functions like case management and foster home licensing. As opposed to traditional development cycles that revolve around large, risk-averse, multi-year contracts, the state is adopting an agile approach to setting up the new system that revolves around a pool of vendors.

After vetting vendors to ensure their coding and design prowess, the CWDS will put out requests for proposal for smaller pieces one at a time and the pool vendors can bid on them. In its DevOps role, CivicActions will serve as a coordinating force between the various vendors and will help to test new bits of code to make sure they work with everything that’s already in place.

The approach shares direct heritage with the fallout from the failure of the original website that crumpled under high user demand when the Affordable Care Act went into effect. That event led to the creation of federal agencies like 18F, which stressed iterative approaches that can respond better to unanticipated problems like that ill-fated website faced.

For instance, CivicActions will put a premium on things like load-testing, which simulates high traffic as coders build a website.

“Rather than waiting months or weeks or days to deploy software, you can deploy in seconds, or a very short period of time, with a high level of confidence that that software’s not going to break anything,” Pava said.

California Department of Technology officials have treated the project as a means of pilot-testing agile methods, hoping that success with the modular effort could pave the way for its adoption with other tech projects.

“In the last six months or so … the epicenter of digital government services has really moved to California, and specifically to the California Child Welfare Digital Services project,” Pava said. “There’s a lot of eyes on this project.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.