Improving Citizen Engagement Through Human-Centered Design: Our Partnership with the New York City Department of Social Services.

Author:McLoughlin, Claire

The New York City Department of Social Services (DSS) serves three million vulnerable New Yorkers. The agency has a workforce of close to 18,000 and delivers a wide range of services from public assistance and employment services to a large homeless shelter system. In the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) alone, caseworkers process close to 70,000 applications and re-certifications per month.

Like many social services agencies, the New York City DSS wanted to improve its citizen engagement process in a way that would reduce the burden on its staff while simultaneously enhancing the customer experience.

Over the last three years, faced with rising caseloads and static resources in the SNAP program, the agency decided to invest in a new service delivery model. The goal was to shift the client interaction from a heavily bricks and mortar, in-person experience to a more self-directed service model using new digital channels, including an online portal that uses IBM Curam Universal Access. Called ACCESS HRA, the portal is designed to provide an improved client experience and to reduce foot traffic at their service centers.

In addition to online applications for SNAP, the portal allows a client to view more than 100 real-time case-related data points, including case status, account balances, and e-notices.

IBM Watson Health[TM] was well suited to partner with the city to address these needs, with 42 design studios around the world and 1,600 formally trained designers. The Watson Health Government Health and Human Services (GHHS) team is tackling the most difficult challenges facing our customers, applying human-centered design and agile development practices across our products and services, to enable us to greatly enhance the value we provide to our customers and their clients.

Universal Access is a social enterprise management platform that is used to connect people to social services across five countries in eight different languages. Government services accessed with Universal Access run the gamut from disability benefits to income support to food assistance to health insurance. The GHHS team engaged in a partnership with DSS to help solve the department's pain points--and do so in a scalable way that would maximize the value delivered across the entire GHHS customer base.

In order to achieve this mission, the team agreed on three core values that would enable them to push the boundaries in terms of user research, product...

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