Internal Transparency: How GovQA Helps Streamline FOIA for Decentralized Governments

(and how YOU can benefit from Polk County’s Project Management Experience)

It was Fall of 2020 when Polk County, Iowa identified a need for an automated system to process their Public Records Requests. “Before GovQA, everything was happening on a piece of paper,” explains Shivani Sehgal, Polk County Sr. Project Manager, on identifying some of the issues the large, decentralized county was experiencing. “Directing the record request to the correct department/office; releasing the record request in a timely manner; having an audit trail – these were all challenges for Polk County. It’s difficult at times to track a document from a file cabinet. However, with GovQA, we can have record request documents/communications in one system with audit trails.”

The county first discussed the idea of building an internal solution. But, as a nearly 20-year veteran of project management, Sehgal knew that would be a large undertaking during the unprecedented time especially when other high priority custom projects were getting implemented. 

498,817

Population Served

18

Depts and Offices

116

Days to Go Live

“We had a limited period of time to implement [a solution] because, during the pandemic, there were a lot of requests coming in and we wanted to make sure they were documented and released as per Chapter 22 code of Iowa.” 

When they discovered that GovQA could provide all of the services that were required in the timeline they needed, it was an easy decision to move forward with GovQA’s automated solution.

Two months after Polk County went live, GovQA’s Sr. Director of Implementation, Debbie Prette, and Director of Customer Success, Nicole Soltes, sat down with Shivani Sehgal, Polk County’s Sr. Project Manager to learn more about the county’s experience.

“Directing the record request to the correct department/office; releasing the record request in a timely manner; having an audit trail - these were all challenges for Polk County. It’s difficult at times to track a document from a file cabinet. However, with GovQA, we can have record request documents/communications in one system with audit trails.”

Shivani SehgalSr. Project Manager, Polk County Iowa

The Conversation:

GovQA: What was the driver for Polk County to purchase a Public Records Software Solution?

Sehgal: The biggest driver to onboard GovQA was to automate the public records request and eliminate the manual process completely.

GovQA: What steps did you take internally to prepare for your GovQA Implementation and conversion to an online public records portal since Polk County consists of 6 elected offices and 14 departments?

Sehgal: We defined the project scope and started the initial planning. However to finalize the scope and plan the project deliverables, we identified and met stakeholders from all the departments and offices. We started the brainstorming process to set goals and objectives; determined the stakeholder requirement deliverables and associated risks; and created the project schedule and milestones.

It’s always advisable to identify the key players for the project team; so we created the team keeping the RACI matrix in mind (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) to assign roles and followed Kotter’s Change Management Model.  We wanted to make sure we had one of the most important aspects of the project covered – Communication. As we decided to go with the decentralized model, it was very important for us to calculate the communication channel to make sure there was complete transparency throughout the project with all the stakeholders.

Change Management Tips
from Polk County:

  • Define project scope and start initial planning
  • Identify the Key Stakeholders in each department/office
  • Reviewed the types of requests each receives
  • Determine who requires assistance from legal
  • Brainstorm goals, objectives for project
  • Determine stakeholder requirement deliverables
  • Identify associated risks
  • Create a plan and schedule with milestones
  • Create a RACI matrix
  • Calculate communication channels
  • Show stakeholders the “first shippable product” that proves change is good

GovQA: Tell us about your GovQA Implementation experience.

Sehgal: Knowing what to expect is key to any successful implementation. As we know, the implementation phase involves putting the project plan into action as the project unfolds; and the work to produce the deliverables starts. GovQA implementation consultant Laura Nagy made sure to follow the project action plan. She has great product knowledge and an understanding of converting business requirements into product deliverables. All and all, an excellent experience.

GovQA: Is there anything that we can do better during the Implementation for our customers?

Sehgal: We would have liked an earlier introduction to Customer Success and Customer Support as well as a better understanding of what happens when we complete our “Post Go Live” Support. Especially for departments that don’t live in the application every day.

GovQA: We agree.  As a result of our conversations on this topic with Polk County and others, we recognized the need to define and implement a new Customer Transition Model for the period between Implementation and Customer Support & Customer Success. We are working now to inform customers about this change.

GovQA: What changed after you posted the public portal for your requesters?

Sehgal: It’s difficult to keep track of emails, snail mails, telephone conversations, etc. GovQA has provided exceptional experiences for the requesters by having them logging into their record center account to view the details of the record request. The process is streamlined and the requesters are not being passed around from department to department because of our decentralized system. Requesters are being notified at each step of the process and there are no delays due to set SLA’s in the application as per Chapter 22 Code of Iowa.

GovQA: What changes have your staff experienced in the two months since you went live with GovQA?

Sehgal: We were surprised how well we were managing our Public Records Requests when they were no longer on paper. Now our department and office staff can review a full picture of our requesters in one place and are more aware of every request received. If there is a delay, we get notification. The best thing we have experienced is the audit trail history that captures everything. If anybody touches the record request, it captures it on your history tab. We like that it’s easy to find previous record requests. If a requester submits the same request to the Sheriff and the Auditor, we can see those multiple requests open (and they are automatically identified as duplicates from a single requester). We have transparency that we didn’t have before. Not to mention, the online payment module is great. It is a change for the good and we are learning more about Public Records requests and reporting on them.

Public Records Portal Launched In 2021

View Their Portal

GovQA thanks Shivani Sehgal for sharing her change management story and the entire Polk County team for an excellent partnership!  

We hope all peers in public records find this case study helpful!  Questions?  Contact peers@govqa.com. Are you using GovQA’s audit trail?  Click the “History” tab in any request, or contact Customer Success to learn more about this included feature.

Learn more about Change Management:

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