EmPowerSD Web Site Helps San Diegans Locate Self-Sufficiency Resources
Alice L. Weed
This paper presents an interactive web application that was developed for the County of San Diego, Health & Human Services Agency. The application has a welfare-to-work focus that will assist citizens in their search for potential employment, career training information, childcare facilities, and public transportation. This project supports the welfare reform that has shifted social services focus from entitlement to temporary assistance. The paper will present the design and development process, data sharing agreements, and lessons learned during the project.
Several years ago, Congress passed welfare reform legislation, transforming welfare from a system of entitlement to one of temporary assistance. What was once AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, became TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The legislation placed much of the responsibility for welfare reform in the hands of individual states. In the state of California the program is called CalWORKs, California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids.The focus of CalWORKs is helping families become self-sufficient.This required a reorganization to merge disparate programs to produce a high performance, customer-focused,results-oriented operation.
GIS is an excellent tool, coupled with the Internet, to assist citizens in their search for potential employment, career training facilities, childcare providers and public transportation. A web-enabled, interactive mapping application allows users to customize their search for employment, to pinpoint their area of interest. Reducing the scope of their search makes a seemingly daunting task much more manageable. You can visit our website at: www.empowersd.com.
The County of San Diego, Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) contracted for the development of a locator application that could be used as a tool by both HHSA staff and citizens of the county, to help CalWORKs recipients become gainfully employed.Once the contract was negotiated, the first step was to hold a series of design meetings to discuss the development requirements for the website. Attending the design meetings were individuals responsible for website design and integration, application design and development, with input from our CalWORKs case work managers, database design and development, training, and product development and distribution. The group identified a series of use cases that set the overall goals of the project. Issues covered in these meetings were: user needs, the look and feel of the website application, the type and format of data supplied by HHSA, and hardware and software requirements. An initial project schedule was also proposed. Once the vendorís report of the design phase was finalized, the development process began.
The vendor created a project website that contained project design documents, proposed website templates, a link to the actual website as it was being developed, a current status report of the project, and upcoming events. The vendor was located outside of San Diego, and the project website made it very easy to know exactly what the project status was at all times. The development process was divided into two areas, the website development and the application development. The website development involved the graphics design and user interface for the application. The application development provided the customization needed to provide the website functionality defined in the initial design process. Our goal was to be constantly aware of the potential website audience, and make the whole application easy to use for the unsophisticated audience. The design included an extensive Online Help section, and Spanish translations for our large Hispanic population.
Much of the value of this website comes from data that has generously been shared by organizations outside of HHSA. We were able to negotiate data sharing agreements with San Diego Workforce Partnership, who has provided us with employer and job training site data. The website contains childcare provider information from the YMCA Childcare Resource Service, the state-funded childcare resource and referral agency serving all of San Diego County. We have included public transportation information that is provided by SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments. All of this data is essential to providing the users the information they need to have, when looking for potential employment. The website offers links to all of these organizations, for further in-depth information.
We have begun our marketing effort with the creation of a brochure and a poster. We will print 100,000 brochures in English and Spanish to be distributed at the CalWORKs sites throughout the county. We will also place the poster in our Agency facilities. We are planning a press conference that will include area press, a member of the County Board of Supervisors, the Agency Director, and our major partners in the project. We will also be presenting the website to other county departments that we partner with in the Countyís strategic initiatives for Self-Sufficiency, Technology and Regional Leadership.
We have met with the CalWORKs management team within the Agency to discuss training needs that will focus on the caseworkers who personally interact with CalWORKs clients.
The software used for this project is Esriís ArcIMS and RouteMap IMS. The ArcIMS offers the users the ability to interactively map the location and data that is of particular interest to them.The RouteMap IMS allows the uses to map a selected resource and get driving directions to that resource. We are using Web Trends as our site monitoring software. We have a requirement to refresh some of the website data on a weekly basis. For that, some simple scripts were written to automate the file transfer process. The website contains a User Survey page, and we have set up a generic email account to handle the responses that are submitted.
Our computer hardware configuration consists of one server that resides behind our front firewall. We are using an IBM X342 Pentium III, Dual Processor with a 1.3 Ghz CPU, 2 Gb RAM, and 36 Gb disk. The server is running under Windows 2000 SP 1, with IIS 5 and Tomcat 3.2. The web processing is also hosted by this server.
It is very important that you involve your Information Technology (IT) staff in the design and development process. You need to have IT support that is knowledgeable in ArcIMS and its system architecture requirements.
If you are operating in a highly secure environment, knowing what ports are required by the application is critical.
Internet users can be an impatient group, consequently, the application should be designed with a focus on transaction speed. This can be done in several ways, such as indexing and setting appropriate scale dependencies.
Always focus your application design on the intended audience. Remember that not everyone is computer-savvy. Keep the design as simple, yet meaningful, as possible. Users who find your website has valuable content and is easy to use will return.
Alice L. Weed, GIS Coordinator
County of San Diego, Health & Human Services Agency
3851 Rosecrans St.
San Diego, Ca. 92110
Phone: (619) 692-5617