The pandemic created a public health emergency that exposed the critical need for the government to respond quickly and support its residents – especially through digital channels. But without a strong foundation in mobile and user-centered design, many government agencies struggled to use the technology in an effective, responsive way.
Supporting people in times of crisis requires government technology that is accessible, easy to use, and focused on creating equitable outcomes. Many of America’s safety net service delivery models rely on legacy, paper-based systems that create heavy workloads and costly inefficiencies. In this model, everyone suffers: administrators, caseworkers, government employees, and above all, the people these systems are supposed to serve.
A people-centered approach is needed to empower the government to prioritize and respond quickly to the needs of its residents. Adopting agile, iterative technology can solve some of government’s biggest challenges and have a transformative impact on people’s lives – building more equitable systems, improving outcomes and reducing the poverty gap.
Successfully bringing these systems to the people requires a change in government that is not only sustainable, but focused on iterative and continuous improvement.
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How human-centered design supports communities
Code America works shoulder-to-shoulder with governments to ultimately deliver a sustainable, effective delivery model that is resilient and efficient, allowing governments to focus on helping those most in need.
We lead with human-centered design across our partnerships, which means we start by uncovering the needs of both customers and government staff, adding insights from the people closest to the problems we’re trying to solve. This process helps us identify opportunities with the greatest impact to reach and support the communities we serve.
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America’s major steps code will take for permanent change
The America Code embeds our people in state agencies to ideate, iterate, and measure. Together, we focus on building and maintaining solutions for long-term sustainability. We start small, make improvements and scale up gradually.
These are the steps we take to create lasting change within an organization:
- Set on result and method: We work with the state’s existing operational, technical and people systems, focusing the conversation on creating continuous service delivery after the partnership ends.
- Start small to test risky assumptions: We empower product teams to release regular updates. Small but more frequent improvements can identify opportunities to provide value while minimizing the risk that comes with new features and extensions.
- Use feedback to refine and measure: At every step of the process, we integrate client and caseworker feedback loops to listen to suggestions and prioritize product improvements. These feedback loops combine qualitative and quantitative insights such as rich contextual inquiry, automated client surveys and smart A/B testing.
How Minnesota continues to put residents first
Building on this process, we partnered with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to create MNbenefits, a new, mobile-optimized integrated benefits application that allows residents to apply for up to nine benefit programs simultaneously. This user-friendly application, which previously took about an hour to complete, now takes less than 15 minutes on average.
In just two years, MNbenefits has helped more than 240,000 people, including members of Minnesota’s tribal nations, access $100 million in public benefits.
One of the most significant achievements of the plan is Minnesota’s desire to continuously improve and bring the best possible service delivery to its residents. It established an internal cross-functional team to guide future product decisions, setting the foundation for continuous human-centered delivery.
The MNbenefits product is not just a dream for one state, but a possibility for all states that code for America’s Safety Net Innovation Lab. Over seven years, we will partner with 15 states to design, distribute and deliver products that make a meaningful difference.
The Innovation Lab aims to reach 13 million people and unlock $30 billion in unclaimed benefits, particularly in food aid, health and other basic needs. The program was launched in 2022 with five state partners and will be expanded to five more states in 2023.
The Innovation Lab provides an incubator for modernizing government technology, where state agencies can learn from each other and exchange ideas. Ideally, they engage in monthly skill building and peer learning sessions to share progress and discuss roadblocks.
This knowledge exchange fosters a sense of innovation and collaboration that transforms agency culture and sets the bar for government progress. This not only influences the distribution of benefits in those states but also serves as a proof of concept of how government can and should serve the public in the digital age.
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