the work

 

We go after domino solutions that have the potential for wide scale and cascading impact. 

 
Public benefit applications in the State of Michigan, filed away at a local field office. Photo by Janice Cho

Public benefit applications in the State of Michigan, filed away at a local field office. Photo by Janice Cho

 

Case Study: unlocking access to government serviceS

Millions of Americans struggle to access critical government services. For residents, navigating complex bureaucracies feels overwhelming and de-humanizing. For government agencies, these services are highly inefficient to operate and often fail to deliver desired outcomes. Civilla is on a mission to unlock access to government services - starting with the public benefit system which impacts 25% of Americans each year. Over the past 15 months, the Civilla team has been working with the State of Michigan to redesign the experience of applying for public benefits. By prioritizing the needs of residents & caseworkers the team has developed an alternative that drastically reduces the State's operational burden while improving experiences and outcomes for millions of residents.

Dr. Latina Denson - a Michigan resident who engaged the public benefit system for the first time after having a stroke that left her in a coma. After 10 years of recovery, she has joined Project Re:form to help transform the experience of accessing benefits in Michigan. Photo by Marisol Dorantes.

Dr. Latina Denson - a Michigan resident who engaged the public benefit system for the first time after having a stroke that left her in a coma. After 10 years of recovery, she has joined Project Re:form to help transform the experience of accessing benefits in Michigan. Photo by Marisol Dorantes.

Aqueelah Abdullah - a MDHHS caseworker whose background in social work inspired her to pursue a career in civil service. Aqueelah is one of many caseworkers who have guided Project Re:form since its inception, shaping a solution that is rooted in the needs of field staff. Photo by Marisol Dorantes.

Aqueelah Abdullah - a MDHHS caseworker whose background in social work inspired her to pursue a career in civil service. Aqueelah is one of many caseworkers who have guided Project Re:form since its inception, shaping a solution that is rooted in the needs of field staff. Photo by Marisol Dorantes.

 
 

Context

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) touches nearly every Michigan resident through programs and services which range from health, income and nutrition supports to advanced laboratory capabilities and state vital records. The largest of these programs, and to a great extent those most commonly associated with MDHHS, support over 2.6 million Michigan residents through healthcare, nutrition, income, child care, and emergency relief services. With almost $1 Billion of allocated benefit left unclaimed each year, one of the primary barriers to services is the long and complex application. 

The entry point to Michigan's public benefit system is an application that is up to 40 pages long. With over 1000 questions and more than 18,000 words it is the longest application of its kind in the United States. 

The entry point to Michigan's public benefit system is an application that is up to 40 pages long. With over 1000 questions and more than 18,000 words it is the longest application of its kind in the United States. 

Not only does this application create a significant barrier to services for residents, but it is also extremely cumbersome for the State to administer and process. There must be a better way. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has linked arms with Civilla to launch Project Re:form - an effort that is focused on developing a faster, simpler and more customer-centered application for Michigan's largest assistance programs. The goals of the project are to create a clear path for residents to access these programs, humanize that experience, and streamline the complex, bureaucratic processes that sit behind them.

Process

Civilla began working with MDHHS in Fall of 2015. Through months of field work, the Civilla team developed a nuanced understanding of the experiences of both residents and caseworkers. The team lifted up these stories in an immersive exhibit that walked State leadership through the full journey of applying for benefits. In parallel, Civilla established relationships with the USDS, Code for America, the Urban Institute, CBPP, and state government agencies to lift up best practices from the US and abroad. 

New concepts for the application that reflected user insights were developed in partnership with residents and caseworkers. These designs were improved through rigorous field testing and many iterations. The design process - facilitated in partnership with DevMynd - resulted in an integrated application that has been embraced by residents, caseworkers, and State leaders alike. In parallel, it delivered an 80% reduction in complexity (words, questions, pages) without any structural shifts in administrative rules, State laws, or Federal regulations.

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Photo by Janice Cho
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Going Live

After months of navigating the required policy, legal, and departmental review process - Civilla has begun piloting the new application in field offices. Through the pilot, Civilla will gather robust feedback on the design, attain federal approval for the application, and fully represent administrative gains to State leaders. This pilot will prepare the application for implementation on a wider scale among MDHHS offices. Statewide rollout is slated for October 2017. Early results demonstrate that the new application will drastically reduce MDHHS’ operational burden while improving experiences and outcomes for millions of residents. It will also lay the groundwork for structural improvements across MDHHS in policy, technology, and business processes. 

Photo by Janice Cho

Photo by Janice Cho

Future

Civilla's work with the State of Michigan is establishing a strong proof point for what it looks like to build government services that are human-centered from the inside-out. The team is pursuing pathways to accelerate innovation in the public benefit system across the US and, eventually, in government services for all Americans - including veteran services, student loans, and the IRS tax code.

In the Media

Read about it: featured in Harvard Business Review

Listen to the story: featured on the podcast One Billion

 

 

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