Jan 12 2023

Code for America Works Shoulder to Shoulder with State Governments

Small, iterative projects can solve some of government’s biggest challenges.

The pandemic created a public health emergency that unearthed the critical need for government to rapidly respond to 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 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, most of all, the people whom these systems are supposed to serve.

Empowering government to prioritize and quickly respond to the needs of its residents requires a human-centered approach. 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 change in government that is not only sustainable but also iterative and focused on continuous improvement.

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How a Human-Centered Design Supports Communities

Code for America works shoulder to shoulder with governments to develop and ultimately hand off a sustainable, effective delivery model that is resilient and efficient, allowing governments to focus on helping those who need it most.

We lead with human-centered design across our partnerships, which means we start by surfacing the needs of both clients and government staff, incorporating insights from the people closest to the problems we are trying to solve. This process helps us identify opportunities that will have the largest impact to reach and support the communities being served.

EXPLORE: Why state and local governments should accelerate digital services development.

Key Steps Code for America Takes for Lasting Change

Code for America embeds our people within state agencies to ideate, iterate and scale. Together, we focus on building and maintaining solutions for long-term sustainability. We start small, make improvements and scale gradually.

These are the steps we take to create lasting change within an organization:

  • Align on outcome and approach: We work with a state’s existing operational, technical and people systems, focusing the conversation on creating sustained service delivery after the partnership ends.
  • Start small to test risky assumptions: We empower product teams to release regular updates. Smaller but more frequent improvements can identify opportunities to provide value while reducing the risk that comes with new features and expansions.
  • Use feedback to refine and scale: At each step in the process, we integrate client and caseworker feedback loops to hear suggestions and prioritize product improvements. These feedback loops combine both qualitative and quantitative insights, like rich contextual inquiry, automated client surveys and smart A/B testing.
Alexis Fernández Garcia
Code for America embeds our people within state agencies to ideate, iterate and scale.”

Alexis Fernández Garcia Senior Program Director, Code for America

How Minnesota Continues to Put Residents First

Relying on this process, we partnered with Minnesota’s 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 at once. This user-friendly application, which previously took nearly an hour to complete, now takes less than 15 minutes on average.

In just over two years, MNbenefits helped more than 240,000 people, including members of Minnesota’s tribal nations, access $100 million in public benefits.

Minnesota’s desire to continually improve and bring outstanding service delivery to its residents is one of the project’s most significant accomplishments. It established an in-house cross-functional team to guide future product decisions, setting the foundation for sustained human-centered delivery.

The MNbenefits product isn’t just a dream for one state, but a possibility for all states in Code for America’s Safety Net Innovation Lab. Over seven years, we’ll partner with 15 states to design, deliver and hand off products that make meaningful change.

The Innovation Lab aims to reach 13 million people and unlock $30 billion in unclaimed benefits, specifically in food assistance, healthcare and other basic needs. The program launched in 2022 with five state partners and will expand 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. As a cohort, 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 can transform agency culture and set the bar for government progress. This not only has an impact on benefits delivery in those states but also serves as a proof of concept for how government can and should serve the public in the digital age.

DIVE DEEPER: How North Texas organizations are uniting for innovative collaboration.

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