As part of a national initiative, Civilla partnered with Code for America to pilot new mobile technology for benefit delivery. The pilot resulted in a faster, simpler, and more human-centered enrollment experience for Michigan’s largest benefit programs–decreasing time to apply by over 75% and decreasing the number of days to process applications by nearly 25%.
Building a human-centered safety net fit for the digital age
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services impacts nearly every Michigan resident through its programs and services. The largest of these programs support over 2.5 million Michigan residents every year by providing access to food assistance, healthcare, cash assistance, child care, and state emergency relief.
With growing budget pressure and average caseloads exceeding 825 per caseworker, MDHHS is increasingly being asked to do more with less. The department must deliver high-quality customer service while delivering benefits efficiently.
Civilla is committed to addressing these challenges through a human-centered approach. In partnership with MDHHS and Code for America, Civilla launched two pilots focused on improving the experience of applying for benefits using mobile technology.
Designing a faster, simpler, and more human-centered digital enrollment experience
User Research: Over the course of a twelve-month engagement, Civilla and Code for America conducted deep user research in order to better understand the experience of accessing and distributing public assistance in Michigan. This research spanned the full enrollment process — with a particular focus on understanding the needs of residents and caseworkers.
Pilot Testing: The team then launched two pilots to prototype a faster, simpler, and more human-centered enrollment experience for benefits. First, we piloted the digital assister: a fast and easy-to-use mobile application for food and healthcare assistance. Then, we piloted two-way text messaging between caseworkers and residents for document submission. It was the first pilot of its kind in the country.
Agile Software Development: Once pilot solutions were defined, the team used agile methods to develop working software. Our iterative approach was driven by short release cycles, with new functionality released every week. Because low-income residents are increasingly reliant on smartphones for internet, the pilot focused on delivering services using mobile technology.
A measurably better digital experience
The pilots delivered a measurably better digital experience for residents and frontline staff:
During the mobile application pilot, the time to apply dropped by more than 75% – from over 45 minutes for the legacy application to 9.5 minutes on average.
During the text messaging pilot, the number of days it took to process applications decreased by nearly 25%.
In both interventions, the percentage of cases that were approved for benefits improved by 14-18%.
Learnings and best practices from the pilots were implemented in Michigan’s new online enrollment portal which launched in 2018. Since then, over one million residents have used it to access benefits statewide.
A foundation for transformation
In partnership with MDHHS, Civilla is using the insights and recommendations from these pilots to improve services for residents and frontline staff.
Together, we’re working to create services in Michigan that are more compassionate, more effective, and less expensive to operate. The large transformation programs underway will continue to be deeply rooted in human-centered design.
Furthermore, all of the work from these pilots has been open sourced so that it can be adopted and implemented by other states nationwide.