Rich Bowlen

Rich Bowlen

Waynesburg native and 1987 Waynesburg Central High School graduate Rich Bowlen has plenty to crow about.

Now living in Lancaster, Ohio, Bowlen has worked in the field of child welfare and adult protective services for 23 years following his graduation from Muskingham University in New Concord with a B.A. in sociology and psychology.

A year-and-a-half ago, Bowlen took his expertise to Northwoods, an Ohio-based technology firm with over 100 human service agency clients in 14 states.

As director of protective services at Northwoods, Bowlen helps the company develop software applications and solutions for the human services industry.

“Here at Northwoods, we’re constantly looking for ways to help state and county governments with their human services programs to increase productivity,” Bowlen said.

“In each agency, there are a lot of different pieces you have to understand before you can share with them how you can help.”

In February, Bowlen found out about a Better Government competition sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, an “independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.”

This year’s contest, the 23rd annual competition, sought ideas that leverage technology to improve the public sector, and Bowlen decided to enter the fray that pitted Northwoods against nearly 150 competitors.

“I’m proud of the work we here at Northwoods are doing, and I wanted to share it with Pioneer,” Bowlen said.

In four weeks, Bowlen wrote the application and paper for the competition that outlined Northwoods’ “Compass CoPilot” program, a proposal to integrate data collection and reporting at state and county human services agencies.

“Social workers are often overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork they have to do in the office,” Bowlen said. “Compass CoPilot allows them to remain in the field longer and spend more time with children and their families by letting them do some of their paperwork in the field on their tablets or I-pads.”

The result of implementation is improved caseload management, increased productivity, reduced overtime and staff turnover, lower travel costs and, most importantly, protection of children and families from abuse and neglect.

“Many of Northwoods’ over 100 employees contributed to the technology that went into designing the app,” Bowlen said.

In the second week of June, the Pioneer Institute phoned to say Northwoods’ entry was in high contention for the top award of $10,000 with four other entrants.

Bowlen then followed up by submitting additional information to the competition, and, on June 16, he got word that his company had won the award.

On Sept. 11, Bowlen and Northwoods CEO, Gary Heinze, will attend the Better Government Competition awards dinner in Boston, featuring a keynote address by Martin J. Walsh, Boston’s mayor.

“Here in Massachusetts, we are all too familiar with the tragic consequences of communication failures within the state Department of Children and Families,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute.

“While technology is not a cure-all, we know that increased information sharing can help protective services agencies focus on serving the needs of victims of neglect and abuse.”

Compass CoPilot allows social workers to immediately retrieve and file case and client information and complete forms using a tablet computer from anywhere.

They can also document their surroundings and share information with other workers, supervisors and directors to make critical decisions about the well being of children and families, especially in crisis situations.

Northwoods’ proposal was selected by a panel of judges from the business, legal, non-profit and municipal government communities.

“By recognizing Northwoods, the Pioneer Institute has amplified the voice of countless child advocates to address the dire need for technology in protective services to help social workers protect the most vulnerable,” said Heinze.

“We are honored to be chosen as the Better Government Competition winner.”

The award money will be used to help those families and children Northwoods works with every day. This may include funds for foster care children leaving for college.

While on the job, Bowlen gets to travel a good deal.

Last year alone, he visited 17 states and over 70 counties nationwide. About a year ago, he visited Washington, Fayette and Allegheny counties to show their departments of human services how the Compass CoPilot application works.

“I’d love to visit Greene County as well and introduce the app there,” Bowlen said. “While I’m home, my Mom could cook dinner and I could visit my sisters and friends and golf at Rohanna’s. One thing about growing up in Greene County is people like to maintain the friendships they develop early on.”

Bowlen currently lives in Lancaster, Ohio, with his wife, Tracy. The couple has two daughters, Jessica, 24, and Allison, 20.

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