At 18F, we build things in the open.
For our partners and the agencies we work with, this commitment to doing things openly helps foster better communication, enhances transparency and — most importantly — produces a better end product. Our work with partner agencies helps us surface lessons learned, and allows us to create new resources that any government agency can easily re-use at no cost.
Our recent work with state government agencies in California and Mississippi provides some powerful examples of how 18F’s commitment to working and learning in the open can provide enormous benefits — even to states that are not yet working directly with 18F.
18F has recently worked with both of these states to overhaul mission-critical legacy systems using new modular contracting techniques, human-centered design, and agile approaches to software development. California and Mississippi are deliberately breaking with past practice in replacing these systems, which typically involved monolithic contracts awarded to a single vendor using outdated development methodologies. As a result, these states are charting a new path for others to follow to more efficiently deliver systems that not only are built around user needs, but also deliver value to the state in months rather than years.
Our work with states has also shown us the important role that the federal grantmaking process can have as both a catalyst for, and a barrier to, the adoption of new procurement practices at the state and local level. For example, the federally-required Advanced Planning Document (APD) process, through which states acquire approval for federal financial participation in the upgrade of technology systems, doesn’t always align well with these modern approaches to state and local technology procurement. 18F is working with some of those federal grantmaking agencies to identify ways their APD process can be updated to better reflect and encourage the use of agile design and modular procurement approaches by state and local governments.
As a byproduct of our work with states, we’ve compiled a number of resources that encapsulate these new approaches to procurement, and highlight the things we’ve learned.
We’ve created a guidebook that state and local governments can use to learn more about agile software development, open source software, and new modular contracting approaches. This guide is full of practical information that can demystify these concepts and help you get started putting them into practice. It includes a list of commonly asked questions that was informed by our work with states; if you have questions on any of these new concepts, chances are other state and local governments have raised them as well.
We’ve also pulled together a list of resources to assist governments in adopting a modular approach to technology contracts. This list will help you understand what modular contracting is, and how it can be implemented in your organization. Some of the resources listed here were created by 18F, but others were created in direct collaboration with our partners who are using modular contracting right now. You can even add your own resources to this list (via GitHub) when you begin using modular contracting techniques and want to share your experience with others.
These are not meant to be a definitive list of question or topics, but instead are living documents that will continue to change and expand as we and our state partners learn more about the trade-offs and benefits of modern development and procurement approaches. We plan to continue expanding this collection to ensure it remains a valuable resource for our partners — be sure to check back on these resources often.
Like all of the resources we create, these examples are made available openly on GitHub (modular contracting documents) where anyone can contribute improvements or suggest ideas. If you work in a state or local government and want to find out more about agile practices or modular contracting, these guides are a great place to start. If you’re working on a new software project and want to connect with 18F about getting involved, let us know.
If you work for a federal grantmaking agency and want to examine how your APD process can encourage these new practices at the state and local level, stay tuned for a future blog post covering this issue in more detail.