Utilizing user-centered design to map out a streamlined bidding process

A Civic Bridge case study from the Spring 2021 cohort.

City Partner: Office of Contract Administration
Pro Bono Partner: Zendesk

San Francisco’s complex compliance regulations have made it difficult for smaller businesses to navigate the road to a government contract. These difficulties reduce the pool of bidders and potentially hinder competition. To meet this equity challenge and increase the bidding pool, the Office of Contract Administration (OCA) and Zendesk partnered to better understand the bidders’ pain points and lay out recommendations for a more streamlined bidding process.

The challenge

The City of San Francisco has a critical job of effectively allocating billions of taxpayer dollars — $13.1 billion this fiscal year (2021) and $12.8 in the coming one (2022) — to enable the delivery of government services. How the City spends that money determines not only the quality and responsiveness of government services, but also which businesses get access to those dollars. 

Businesses looking to work with the City (bidders and suppliers) are required to comply with various social policies and programs, many of which are administered by different City Departments like the Contract Monitoring Division (CMD), Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE), and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD). While the goal of these policies and requirements seek to ensure the safety of residents, suppliers’ compliance with workplace regulations, and more — it is then up to bidders and suppliers to navigate the complex bureaucracy to understand their obligations under each program and decipher the rules they must follow for submitting a bid and for the terms of an awarded contract.

The process

In order to meet this challenge, OCA and Zendesk worked together through Civic Bridge to better understand the pain points of bidders and suppliers, and to develop recommendations for a “one-stop-shop” that could serve as a centralized source of information.

Discover Phase | Is compliance too big a hurdle? 

  • The volunteer consultants from Zendesk led stakeholder interviews with multiple City departments to understand their perspective and back-end experience with procurement
  • Interviewed departments noted it was difficult to verify City staff were taking the appropriate steps for procurement, especially when multiple departments were involved  
  • Zendesk surveyed over two hundred currently contracted businesses and past contract bidders, focusing on small local businesses, to gauge their understanding of compliance and their attitudes about the bidding process

Define Phase | Only half of bidders felt they knew how to comply 

  • Zendesk found that while the majority of surveyed businesses felt like they knew how to make a compliant bid (57%), only 43% felt they understood what it meant to be a compliant supplier
  • Surveyed businesses noted that regulatory “legalese” was hard to understand, bemoaned a number of redundant submission requirements, and complained about the opaqueness of the bidding process

Design Phase | Suggestions and concepts for a streamlined user experience

  • Zendesk synthesized recommendations from their survey and interview findings, focusing on:
    • potential bidders’ dissatisfaction and difficulty with the compliance process
    • stakeholder Departments’ challenges in ensuring procurement is done properly and having all the info they need when they need it
    • effective ways to operationalize or quantify goals for the procurement process

Deliver Phase | Strategy guides and a one-stop shop for bidding

  • Zendesk delivered a recommendation deck that included how OCA could:
    • Quantify goals and key process inputs — how many bidders does the City want for each contract? 
    • Improve transparency in the process — bidders want to know their status in the bidding and award process
    • Centralize and clarify what bidders need to do — bidders consult disparate and varying sources to get the information they need for compliance
  • Zendesk prepared a “one-stop shop” website mockup showcasing ways to streamline the bidding experience with FAQs, a status tracker, and key document pages.

Prepare to Launch | Understanding the data and delivering change

  • With Zendesk’s observations from over two hundred survey respondents, OCA identified what recommendations could be immediately applied and which would require collaboration with other stakeholder departments

The stakeholder interviews and user research surfaced pain points that local and underrepresented businesses faced when submitting their bids. By conducting user research and identifying areas of improvement, the project team developed critical insights in how OCA might develop a more streamlined, centralized procurement process. 

The impact

This Civic Bridge project has charted a path forward for improvement in the procurement and bidding process. Key City departmental stakeholders have been energized to collaborate and act on the treasure trove of feedback from current and past contractors to begin improving the responsiveness and clarity of the process.

Moving forward, stakeholder departments see the “one-stop-shop” as essential to redefining the experience of would-be bidders. By centralizing regulatory information, allowing bidders to more easily track their bids, and making the process more user-friendly, OCA hopes to reduce barriers for small businesses looking to do business with the City.

Last updated May 19, 2022