The City of Saint Paul aims to be “Saint Paul for all,” and to make its digital tools user-friendly, efficient, and inclusive for a diverse and growing population. With 17 departments and dozens of important services — from supplying drinking water to assisting new businesses to launching a college savings account for every child born in Saint Paul — the city juggles support for its many technology platforms alongside demands for new tools and content.
Software for Good has partnered with the city’s Office of Technology and Communications to provide ongoing strategic and technical consulting on several projects. To support the city’s digital transformation, our team met with representatives from every department to understand their services and technology needs. We mapped out key pain points, analyzed tools and website features from other cities for inspiration, and created design mockups to envision a new Saint Paul website. We audited current city processes through “sit-alongs” with staff, including at the call center that takes in requests and complaints from community members.
For specific tech projects, our team has worked directly on software development, building or updating applications to support residents’ needs including registration for youth internships, enrollment in the college savings account program, and navigating parking after a heavy snowfall. As the city built out its own staff of software developers, our consultant was stationed at the city in person to lead projects, offer one-on-one mentoring, and establish best practices for an engineering team.
Project highlight: A better experience for vendors
Working with vendors who provide products and services may sound like a straightforward government routine, but it’s an important opportunity for state and local governments — a chance to be more inclusive and support historically disadvantaged business owners.
Unfortunately, the current procurement process is often just another barrier. For small business owners — especially those who are women, immigrants, and/or Black, Indigenous, and people of color — navigating multiple steps and tools to bid on a government contract is overwhelming and time-consuming. For many businesses, it’s not worth the effort.
The City of Saint Paul knew they could do better. The city’s procurement team is part of the Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity department, and they saw that a more accessible experience for vendors would advance the goal of creating a “Saint Paul for all.”
Software for Good’s strategy and human-centered design team started by understanding the current experience — walking through the steps of registering as a supplier, browsing open opportunities, and bidding on a contract. We used methods such as journey mapping, “jobs to be done,” and service blueprinting to understand the entire process and pinpoint opportunities for improvement.
Our team talked to the city’s buyers about the questions and frustrations they hear most often, such as people needing a manual password reset or wondering about the “commodity codes” used to classify projects. We checked the portal for accessibility concerns such as effective color contrast and the ability to navigate using a screen reader. Our team also did comparative research on other procurement tools, highlighting key features that made their systems easier to use.
As a vendor for the city ourselves, we had some direct experience with the supplier portal, but we wanted to hear from other business owners, too. We sent out a survey to suppliers on the city’s list, and interviewed business owners representing different experiences with the city. As key themes emerged, we captured recommendations in an interactive roadmap that the city could use to start prioritizing and making changes.
Thanks to working closely with both the procurement and technology teams, we saw immediate improvements even before we had handed off our recommendations. Though the transformational changes we suggested will take more time — especially the issues we found with government procurement in general — the procurement team is equipped to continue making it easier for small businesses to partner with the city.
And it’s worth it. One entrepreneur we interviewed described the supplier portal as “terrifying” and “exasperating” — but still said that partnering with the city has been some of their “favorite work ever.” By breaking down barriers to working with government clients, we can ensure that historically underrepresented business owners are offered that same opportunity.