Re:Form | Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
PROJECT TYPE: Design Research and Strategy with Civilla
ROLE: Prototype/Build Lead
COMPETENCIES: Design Research, Strategy, Prototyping, User Testing, Co-Design, Service Design, Story Design & Storytelling Artifacts
DELIVERABLES TO MDHHS: Working Form Prototypes, Service Prototypes, User Research & User Insights
What if you had to fill out a novel to receive food-stamps you needed yesterday? Currently, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services utilizes a form over 60 pages long for citizens in need of Food Assistance, Childcare and Cash Assistance. This form creates a complex system of administration, unclear navigation and overall confusion, which in turn creates tension between the MDHHS and its clients - the people of Michigan.
Our task was to provide insights on how to move the billion dollar MDHHS from a institution-centric to a citizen-centric system.
We began our immersion into the DMHHS system by attempting to individually fill out the full application for food assistance. Quickly, we discovered questions such as "What is the date of conception of your child?" and "Please list all assets: 401 k, stocks, bonds, etc." It seemed implausible that it could be this complicated to eventually receive just 100 dollars a month.
It was at this time that we pulled in key stakeholders to help us understand the various user journeys within the MDHHS assistance program. I drew two separate user journey maps to illuminate areas of potential insights. It was here that we began to clearly see the overlap of pain points between caseworkers and clients.
Next, we began in-depth interviews with over 20 administrators, caseworkers and clients. During this time we also did observations of clients filling out the form, as well as administrators in their daily interaction with the form.
Early on in the Re:Form project, our team realized we needed more hard data. Out came the stop watches, the journal studies and exel spreadsheets, as we timed, analyzed and quantified our findings at the MDHHS. Many of our findings centered around usability within the caseworker eco-system of administration.
After unpacking our interviews, creating multiple journey maps, and saturating our space in photos and other artifacts, we set to work synthesizing and finding patterns withing our findings. Major insights were: the systems felt like an Us vs. Them battle, the system felt like a cosmic force, because of this navigation help on the client side was sought through informal networks, and caseworkers were drowning under a 750 case at any given time load.
An important aspect of this project was our Thursday morning co-design sessions. Members of the Detroit community, including social workers, designers, even a Mckinsey consultant, came in week after week for over three months to help unpack interviews, ideate, and help in prototyping new forms.
During our synthesis phase we'd begun to have an inkling that we could address any number of our insights, but focusing our energies on the form might be a strong way to define the system built out around it.
Prototype & Test
We explored a multitude of prototypes, from navigational addendums, to tri-folds, to just plain shortening the form. We eventually found the across all user-testing, no matter the color, language or ease of use, users preferred short, simple and relevant to all else.
Art & Design
Throughout our design cycle we drew our stakeholders back into the process with insights translated through physical manifestations. For example, these 750 cuts rope lengths were hung into an art installation so visitors could feel the impact of having to contend with a 750 person caseload.
For our final presentation of insights and prototypes we created an immersive experience making sure to include each of the 5 senses. Stakeholders were walked through filling out the form, complete with distracting office noises, an 80 ft. long user journey map, as well as a maze of insights, a wall of client photos, and a life size map of the prototype process.
Remember that 64 page form? Our team managed to slim it down into 13 pages, including a 1 page navigational guide. Here, the head of the MDHHS peruses the insights of project Re:Form, along with our co-founder and project team. As a result of this particular presentation, the governor of Michigan is slated to visit and explore our findings in January.