In tech, waitlists build hype and signal interest. In fact, the number of people signaling their attraction to your app can be used to raise millions of dollars and drive up the valuation of your company. Yeehaw!
In childcare, waitlists cause anxiety and perpetuate uncertainty. Each additional family jostling for a space reinforces how stretched the system is.
There is a substantial opportunity for civic technologists to build a digitized, centralized childcare waitlist for our municipalities that would transform the user experience. At present, only the City of Ottawa has a centralized list.
Childcare centres - be they licensed or unlicensed, non-profit or for-profit - are rarely near work or our home, creating logistical challenges for parents. Further, parents are disadvantaged by lack of information, and childcare centres are predominantly independent institutions that have a huge coordination problem and a lack of incentive to fix it. In order to secure a space for a child and plan to return to work, parents add their names one-by-one to waitlists (sometimes paper-based) in their neighbourhood and then wait nervously for a phone call announcing a space that they can take-or-leave (meaning that some parents enrol their children earlier than planned out of fear that a subsequent space won’t become available). It’s disorienting and inefficient.
Here is a way to sign up for child care in Toronto. You have to type the name of the child care centres that you want to be waitlisted for. How is a parent supposed to know that? There’s not even a map (I am not joking).
Given that we have waitlist systems for restaurants that offer a superior user experience, it’s not difficult to imagine a public product that clearly communicated a “live” number for your name on a list so that parents can monitor their progress and gain some peace of mind.
I’m not saying that we should borrow other aspects of the waitlists we see utilized by tech companies to build hype; like moving up the list if you refer friends or demanding double-blind reviews. I am saying that product developers may be somewhat unaware of this need. The profit margins in the child care space are pretty slim. That doesn’t mean that the sector and its stakeholders should suffer from information failure.