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Attachments 13-14: RFP 2011-5 Reviewer Summary, Enabling Technology: Collaborating for the Future

Educational Programs Inspiring Communities, Inc. (Houston)

Key Project Staff

Project Director: Jane Cummins

Project Coordinator: Ross Castillo, Ph.D.

Project Location (counties): Harris

Project Abstract

“Working with HEART” is a project designed to create new applications and acquire technology to demonstrate that people with developmental disabilities can maintain competitive employment with new supports. The project is collaboration between a Houston-area non-profit program known as “H.E.A.R.T.” that educates, trains, and employs adults with developmental disabilities, and a private technology firm called “Blue Lance Group” that has a history of creating and designing customized applications and software. The project will create apps that will then be tested in H.E.A.R.T.’s vending machine employment program to teach participants how to complete inventory and achieve other employment related goals.

Year 1 Budget

Funding amount requested: $225,000

Match: $ 75,000

Total Project Cost: $300,000

Strengths

  • The proposer has identified and is focusing on a specific employment outcome: increasing employment of participants as measured by a change in wages.
  • The proposer will make use of an existing worksite.
  • The proposer gave a lot of thought to what type of technology would be most beneficial in assisting people to meet the goal of increased employment.
  • The project design includes a consumer satisfaction component that will ensure that there is involvement of people with developmental disabilities.
  • The proposer has identified a specific target audience.
  • The partners have the expertise to implement the project, and the partnership is consistent with the intention of the Request for Proposal to involve a “generic” industrial technology company as a partner.
  • The proposal is well-written, well-organized, and is supported by solid logic.
  • This proposal provides the strongest plan for sustainability out of all proposals received, and it appears to be a realistic plan.
  • This proposer did a better job of addressing diversity of disability than any of the other proposals received.

Needs

  • The proposer should ensure they examine how individual characteristics of the participants (and/or their disability) might impact how they use technology.
  • The budget indicates that $177,000 will be paid to the subcontractor and does not provide detail on how these funds will be used. This must be explained further, and the proposer should provide a more detailed description of the contract partner.
  • The proposer should collect additional employment data beyond just wages as there might be other indicators of success (if wages do not increase).
  •  The proposer must address the requirement to allow sufficient time for TCDD to review and approve all products prior to use.
  • The proposer should provide more information about the criteria that will be used to determine eligibility for the project.

Final Review Panel Recommendation

Fundable, Ranked 1st.

Additional Staff Questions/Concerns

  • Applicant website indicates 72% of their funds are from grants. Application materials indicate last year’s budget of $625k. That may raise a concern about sustainability in future should other grants end.
  • Objectives for years 2-5 seem pretty slim. However, TCDD’s experience is that the first year of new projects frequently is somewhat of a “start-up” year that involves a lot of planning and learning about TCDD requirements. Thus, it may be appropriate for the Executive Committee to approve funding for 2-3 years, with an option to extend funding for the full five years if the work requires that length of time. That should allow the proposer the necessary time to develop the initial application and ensure that a more complete plan for years 4 and 5 is provided to the Executive Committee before funding is approved for those years.
  • It is not clear if the applicant plans to charge for the application after its creation (for sustainability) or if it will be free.
  • There is no mention of marketing the availability of the application after creation. This will need to be addressed.

NOTE: TCDD staff will confirm, prior to funding, that recommended proposers understand that rights to products developed through this grant belong to TCDD.

Strategic Education Solutions, LLC (Austin)

Key Project Staff

Project Director: Cynthia Burrow

Project Coordinator: To Be Hired

Project Location (counties): Harris

Project Abstract

rategic Education Solutions, Harris County Department of Education, and Trinity Education Group will collaboratively develop a “virtual job coach” application. The web-based application will deliver visually-rich instructional modules addressing job-search, job application, and workforce skills processes and strategies. The primary audience for the application is adults with cognitive disabilities; however, instructional pedagogy and online delivery appropriate for this audience will also be highly beneficial to adults with other developmental disabilities and those without developmental disabilities. A moderated online community and mobile application will further support users with specific questions and concerns related to securing employment and succeeding in the workplace.

Year 1 Budget

Funding amount requested: $225,292

Match: $ 25,055

Total Project Cost: $250,347

Strengths

  • The proposer clearly describes a strong partnership between experienced organizations that have worked together in the past. The proposer defines the roles within the partnerships well, demonstrates that the partnership includes good technological expertise, and explains how the involvement of the Harris County Department of Education will facilitate good access to the target population and to the technology.
  • The proposed Virtual Job Coach application has the potential to be very beneficial to people.
  •  The proposal is clear, well-organized, and includes very realistic first year milestones.
  • The process through which the instructional modules will be developed reflects best practices in instructional design.
  • The proposal includes specific well-thought out reasons for the selection of the target population and analyzes cultural diversity as it relates to that population.
  • A well-designed needs assessment will inform the design of the product and the process for recruiting participants.
  • The composition of the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) is well-thought-out.
  • The proposer plans to work with TCDD staff to avoid duplication of services or effort.

Needs

  • The proposer needs to narrow down the specific characteristics of the target population even further.
  • The pilot study involves only 10 people, which is the minimum required in the Request for Proposals (RFP). Any attrition number of project participants without replacement would cause this group to be unacceptably small.
  • The proposer must address the requirement to allow sufficient time for TCDD to review and approve all products prior to use.
  • The proposer did not address sustainability in the proposal.
  • Because the proposer didn’t address the reasons for low employment, it’s hard to evaluate whether or not the application is likely to be successful.
  • There is little evidence of input from people with developmental disabilities in the plan, other than as members of the PAC. People with developmental disabilities should be actively involved in planning and/or implementation throughout the project.
  • The evaluation component should include employment outcome data.
  • The proposer and TCDD staff need to examine the roles and percentage of time allotted by the Project Director and the Project Coordinator to determine if they accurately reflect what will be necessary for the project to succeed, or if they need to be re-aligned.
  • The large gap in the salaries of the Project Director and Project Coordinator should be justified.

Final Review Panel Recommendation

Fundable, Ranked 2nd.

Note(s)

  • The proposal would have been strengthened by the inclusion of more detail (for example, additional information about the parameters of what would be included in Virtual Job Coach).
  • TCDD will confirm, prior to funding, that both recommended applicants understand that rights to products developed through this grant belong to TCDD.

Additional Staff Questions/Concerns

  • Objectives for years 2-5 note only that the applicant will develop additional models. However, TCDD’s experience is that the first year of new projects frequently is somewhat of a “start-up” year that involves a lot of planning and learning about TCDD requirements. Thus, it may be appropriate for the Executive Committee to approve funding for 2-3 years, with an option to extend funding for the full five years if the work requires that length of time. That should allow the proposer the necessary time to develop the initial application and ensure that a more complete plan for years 4 and 5 is provided to the Executive Committee before funding is approved for those years.
  • It seems limiting for the app to only be “county-wide” after year 5. Why could it not be applicable across the state or nation?