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San Mateo County Uses Knack to Empower Citizen Volunteers

  • Written By: admin

How a California county used no-code to coordinate thousands of volunteers to help respond to COVID-19.

Southwest of San Francisco Bay, San Mateo County is home to over 700,000 citizens that live in 20 cities and rural areas. Described as “all of California in one county,” the region is known for its diversity as well as its active citizenry.

When COVID-19 burst onto the scene, municipalities across the United States scrambled to get ready for the unknown. In addition to preparations in healthcare capacity, stay-at-home guidelines and business mandates, San Mateo County sought to empower their citizens to make a difference amidst the looming pandemic.

In order to quickly put their citizen volunteers to work, the county needed a platform that could gather and harness volunteer data, get it to the right people (while respecting data privacy), and make sure it stays up-to-date.

A Challenge and an Opportunity

“COVID-19 created an immediate need for volunteers to help serve our community,” Julie Goebel recounted to the team here at Knack.

A graphic and web designer for San Mateo County, Julie had stepped in to help manage the volunteer effort. Initially, she created a Survey Monkey form to allow volunteers to indicate interest. This collected the initial influx of volunteer information and provided aggregate reporting. But to really analyze and collaborate on the data, Julie’s colleagues had to download the data into a spreadsheet and email it around to key stakeholders.

Soon, out-of-date datasets were floating around, some with more recent updates from a variety of sources. For example, volunteers’ availability kept changing, but the survey form didn’t provide an easy way for them to update their information.

“This is critical during the COVID-19 crisis when people can fall ill or have to isolate and are no longer available to volunteer,” Julie explains.

This meant phone calls and emails, then manually updating whichever copy of the spreadsheet the given staff member had.

With data being updated in various places, the Survey Monkey data was now incomplete, even as the tool was receiving new submissions every day. It quickly became clear that San Mateo County would need a more powerful solution.

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Image by Ioana Han

So What Do We Really Need?

A Single Source of Truth
Data is only actionable if it is accurate and accessible. With multiple copies of spreadsheets, accuracy was difficult to maintain. And finding the right data through spreadsheet searches and filtering was time-consuming.

Collaboration
To maintain a single source of truth, data must be kept in a central location. But that can make it difficult for San Mateo County staff to collaborate, especially when everyone is working remotely. The county needed a tool that would allow the right people to have access to work with the right information.

A Customer Portal
Local government’s customers are its citizens. And in many cases, customers are best served by allowing them to log in, access, and update their information.

Powerful Reporting
For a local government to justify any program, data transparency is essential. But summarizing data into a bigger picture view can be a time consuming, recurring process. To avoid overwhelming county staff, they needed the ability to quickly configure reports that would automatically aggregate data going forward.

Flexibility
There are plenty of off-the-shelf “customer portal” or “local government” software platforms, but they are struggling to adapt to the new realities of a post-pandemic world just like everyone else. San Mateo County needed a solution that would meet the needs they know of today and be able to adapt to their changing needs going forward.

Speed
The pandemic changed everything at record speed, and needs among the county’s 20 cities and rural areas were rapidly piling up. Volunteer applications were already pouring in. Their existing solution was causing more work for a team already stretched thin by an unprecedented challenge. The staff of San Mateo County needed a way to fix their problems, and fast.

A Helping Hand
In a perfect world, there would be software perfectly suited to the task, and someone on their team who knows it like the back of their hand. In the case of San Mateo County, that’s exactly what they found.

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Finding Knack

While researching solutions, Julie came across Knack (that’s us!), a no-code app development platform that is leveraged by many local governments around the United States and across the world.

Some Extra Help

“Knack had a special COVID-19 offer that allowed us to try it out and see if it would solve our problems,” Julie says. “Knack also paired us up with a Knack Pro, Dave Parrish, for some free mentoring.”

Dave is an experienced, independent partner who consults with Knack customers on no-code best practices. Knack partners know the ins and outs of planning efficient applications, they can quickly understand an organization’s challenges, and help them think further ahead to avoid potential pitfalls. Combining a robust platform like Knack with the expert advice of a partner like Dave can be the fastest way to ensure the success of a custom software solution.

In this case, Dave was also one of several partners who volunteered to help organizations get COVID-19 relief apps off the ground. He jumped in with both feet, taking time to not only understand the app’s initial requirements, but help the county work through underlying challenges to create a long term solution.

“They needed all kinds of functionality. They needed to search for volunteers by skills, language, availability, and credentials. Staff had to be able to assign volunteers to projects while accommodating availability. Volunteers needed to log in and update their availability times, their contact, and other info. And the staff still needed to be able to export matching volunteers to provide to relevant non-profits. And on top of it all, they needed to track all sorts of metrics.”

“In the end, it was a totally custom volunteer management system.”

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A Powerful Solution, Fast

Despite a sizable project scope, the app was ready to go in about one week. (Yes, a week).

“Dave was amazing and quickly helped wrangle the data into a usable, searchable format,” Julie confirms. “He quickly built us a solution that solved all our issues. We are now able to quickly enroll and deploy volunteers to respond to the changing demands of COVID-19.”

“Knack tools were ideal for getting this up and running,” Dave boasts. “With a well organized group effort on their part and mine, we did it in about a week. Need it done? Knack.”

Onward and Upward With Knack

As the county has continued to realize just how powerful and flexible Knack is, they have already made plans for expansion. They also converted their free COVID-19 app to a paid subscription and retained Dave as a Knack consultant.

“When our Health Department saw the app, they thought it could help them enroll and schedule healthcare volunteers,” Julie explains. “Being able to easily adapt the app to our changing needs has been very helpful.”

They are also expanding their app to allow non-profit partners to register and post their volunteer needs directly in the app. This will streamline the process of pairing citizens with volunteer opportunities, and allows San Mateo County staff to quickly deploy help where it’s needed the most.

If there’s one certainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s uncertainty. Local governments have had to respond even as facts on the ground are rapidly changing.

With Knack, San Mateo County has a solution that can not only meet their needs today, but can rise to the challenges of tomorrow.