City of Boston    |    Civic Tech in Local Government    |    Supplier Portal Improvements Project

Amid complexity and uncertainty, I enabled Finance Cabinet leaders to determine key improvement priorities and design criteria for the City of Boston's public-facing Supplier Portal website and deliver a development request to the Department of Innovation and Technology.


Design Strategy Consultant


Fall 2022–Spring 2023 and Fall 2023
(10 months total)


City of Boston Finance Cabinet
City of Boston Strategic Procurement Team

Jennifer Dufour, Director of Operational Improvement

Michael Miller, former Director of Strategic Procurement

A key touchpoint for procurement shouldn't be a barrier for users

Procurement is an opportunity for the City of Boston to advance its strategic goals—putting money back into the community, investing in small, local, and minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs), providing better goods and services, and tapping into innovation of Boston businesses. 

The Supplier Portal is the website that businesses, nonprofits, and individuals use to find procurement opportunities, place bids, and complete paperwork. Despite being a key procurement touchpoint, an unfriendly user interface, patchwork updates, complex language, and confusing navigation create a barrier for users trying to engage with the City.

                              Screen captures of the original Supplier Portal homepage, registration form, and event details display.

The Supplier Portal should empower users in and out of government

How can the City of Boston Supplier Portal empower more small, local, minority, and women-owned businesses to successfully find opportunities, place bids, and work with the City?

The Strategic Procurement Team wanted to use upcoming upgrades as an opportunity to take a more holistic approach to Portal improvements. We aimed to evaluate the user experience for a wide array of external users and staff, rather than centering the experiences of a few stakeholders.

Knowing that the current Portal technology might be insufficient for enabling all recommendations, we sought to understand user needs to guide future software development and purchases as well.

A stakeholder map for the Supplier Portal shows the many stakeholders that exist across City departments and business users and their interrelations.

Cross-departmental workshops connected stakeholders on challenges, opportunities, and goals

To prepare for stakeholder engagement, I tracked my own vendor experience on the Supplier Portal, reviewed existing research, conducted a market analysis, and mapped the site's user flow. I ran a prototype workshop, and saw that a cross-departmental discussion generated deep insights.

The "Current State Workshop" focused on uncovering challenges and building empathy. Participants used quick reflections and a process map to share challenges experienced by internal and external users. 

The "Future State Workshop" explored possibilities, goals, and new ideas. Participants visited other websites for inspiration, shared feelings about a preferred future, and worked together to articulate the goals of the Supplier Portal user experience and ideas for improvements.

                              Initial research, workshop prototyping, and images from the Current and Future State workshops, held at Boston City Hall.

Insights generated buy-in, but unearthed doubt

From workshop data, I identified a set of five values—systemic change, building connections, respect, resiliency, and empowerment—and 14 improvement areas around user experience, training and support, added functionality, and addressing diverse audience needs. I designed a set of printable cards to make the findings accessible and interactive, prompting a request for a third workshop.

In the "Scoping Workshop," we sought feedback on our findings, and used ideation exercises aimed at generating enthusiasm for enacting change through iterative experiments. 

We discovered that there was buy-in on the need for improvements, but worry about feasibility and decision making power. We realized we needed clear leadership support to build momentum.

                              Findings cards and City of Boston staff using the cards in a workshop in Boston City Hall.

Prioritizing improvements with leadership to take the next steps

Finance Cabinet leaders requested a workshop to help them deliver their top priorities to the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT).

I researched prioritization methods that would facilitate decision-making in complexity and reduce bias, adopting a framework that focused on stakeholder impact. To address the uncertainty and barriers to decision-making, I carefully framed the workshop scope and activities to promote productive and collaborative discussions.

In the "Prioritizing and Defining Success Workshop," we aligned on problem statements and considered impact on stakeholders. Three clear front-runners emerged, in addition to creating more training materials independently of DoIT.

                              Planning documents for prioritization activities and Finance Cabinet Leaders reflecting on the workshop results.

Request delivered to DoIT, backed by stakeholder alignment

The request aims to improve the user experience for a diverse group internal and external users, through both short-term solutions and long-term technology development.

The request includes an overview of our research and ask, design criteria, ranked problem statements and success criteria, notes on training, and recommendations for further work. 

After reviewing the request, DoIT is collaborating with the Finance Cabinet to procure a new system that meets user needs.

                              Sample pages from the report to DoIT.