Introducing BDT’s Chief Digital Officer

| By: Stephen Rockwell, Chief Digital Officer

Stephen Rockwell joins BDT as CDO, helping to lead us closer to the cutting edge of tech-driven systems change.

At the beginning of the year, I happily accepted the opportunity to become BDT’s first Chief Digital Officer. The role seems perfectly suited to both my interests in systems change through improving public policy to be more data-driven, and my experience in creating innovative social change through experimentation with new technologies and leading organizational transformation efforts. BDT has continually evolved since its founding in 2005, and now I have a chance to lead us even closer to the cutting edge of technology-enabled service delivery and data-driven systems change work. 

I came from Charity Navigator, where I was their Chief Product and Technology Officer.  In my time at the nation’s leading evaluator of nonprofit organizations, I developed a new rating system for nonprofit organizations that evaluated impact and effectiveness. Throughout the ratings development process, I spoke with experts and leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. One major theme arose about the most effective nonprofit organizations: they provide both direct services and work toward systems change. I found myself being pulled to BDT because it is just this kind of organization. The direct service provided through end-to-end support in navigating the challenging enrollment process has profound impact in getting benefits to those who need them today and applying the learnings from our work can build more efficient and effective systems for benefits access in the future. 

Getting the policy right is difficult in almost any political environment, but policy implementation can be just as tough. BDT fills a vital gap in policy implementation, partnering with state and municipal governments, health care organizations, and higher education organizations to engage potentially eligible benefit recipients at scale. Our innovative services bridge gaps in implementation and create knowledge about what government and others can more fundamentally change across benefit systems.  I am excited about the opportunity to continue to innovate and then encourage those learnings to proliferate in systems change work.   

As CDO, I am leading the development of our digital vision and strategy. Digital innovation happens when cross-sector and cross-department teams have curious mindsets and seek experimentation and learning together. For all the progress that BDT has made to date, there is still so much more to learn in order to increase our level of sophistication in using newer technologies such as Machine Learning, predictive analytics, and Artificial Intelligence. The excellent BDT team that I am joining, and our partners, are engaged and eager to continue this kind of learning. In today’s fast-moving world, ongoing learning is a necessity for effective digital strategy that must evolve quickly as such new technologies yield opportunities for new strategies and entirely new ways of being in the world. For example, Netflix thought it had built a better Blockbuster with a DVD subscription service. Over time, their business model evolved entirely to take advantage of broadband and are now a leading content creator as opposed to merely a distributor. Technology not only delivers on existing strategies but can change the entire strategic context.  

Indeed, our digital transformation journey aims to not just further evolve BDT’s work, but also to support innovative systems change. In this regard, I am hopeful to engage with our partners, funders, and social entrepreneurs to experiment and learn what works.  Together, we can build the right set of digital tools and tech-enabled policy implementations that create the benefits access system that allows people to live healthier, more independent lives.