What Works Toolkit

State and Local Government Leading Practices

What Works Toolkit in Action

King County, Washington Applies an Equity Lens to Design More Accessible, Collaborative, and Outcomes-Focused Contracting Processes

In 2014, King County, Washington began to re-evaluate its approach to delivering health and human services for children and families to achieve its strategic goals for enhancing equity, health, and wellbeing outcomes among county residents. Their goal was to create conditions under which many more people—particularly communities that have been historically disadvantaged and underrepresented—can achieve their full potential. In November 2015, King County voters passed the Best Starts for Kids levy (Ordinance 18088), considered the most comprehensive approach to early childhood development in the United States. The levy now generates an average of $65 million per year in new funding to invest in the health and wellbeing of all King County residents . Grounded in early childhood and youth development research, Best Starts for Kids invests in promotion, prevention, and early intervention strategies that promote healthier, more resilient children, youth, families, and communities.

As an entirely new investment, Best Starts for Kids allowed the County to build its equity-driven approach into the initiative from the ground up and led to major shifts in the King County contracting process.

King County’s new contracting practices support services for historically underserved communities by increasing provider diversity and ensuring the County contracts with community-based organizations that are led by and reflect the communities they serve.

King County’s new contracting process is more accessible, collaborative, and outcomes-focused.

Best Starts for Kids used an equity lens to design its contracting process and focused on building trust between service providers and King County government agencies. The County’s contracting process begins by engaging with community members and local, community-based organizations to jointly develop shared goals and values. County program managers have flexibility to make decisions about contracts, manage contract negotiation, and provide contract oversight. Each contract has performance measures which are developed in partnership during the contract negotiation process. County program managers and providers work together to address provider challenges and make any necessary program improvements to achieve the desired performance measures.

This new contracting process also promotes evidence-based preventive services, while simultaneously allowing the County to test innovative and community-based approaches. Best Starts for Kids recognizes that existing evidence-based and evidence-informed models do not work for all communities, and they place equal value on innovative, community-based programs, providing them with the support they need to evaluate their impact and build a base of evidence for new approaches.

To support this effort, King County developed Best Starts for Kids’ comprehensive data and evaluation plan, which is used as a learning agenda informing all of their work. The data and evaluation plan guides which services should have a deep-dive evaluation and builds knowledge of what works to improve outcomes for county residents.

King County requires Best Starts for Kids to set aside at least 1% of funding for technical assistance and capacity building. Technical assistance provides critical support to smaller community-based organizations as they apply for funding. Preliminary results from one of Best Starts for Kids’ RFPs show that 124 organizations have accessed technical assistance resources such as data analytics. Of those organizations, 52% had never applied for King County funding and 33% had never applied for any kind of grant.

By focusing on equity and re-evaluating contracting processes, Best Starts for Kids demonstrates how innovative thinking and new approaches can lead to a more accessible, collaborative, and outcomes-focused contracting process in order to improve the wellbeing of residents.


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