CalWORKs is a social safety net program for families. Human Services Agencies in all California counties provide CalWORKs to its residents. As an internal research and design consultant in the San Francisco Human Service Agency, I managed the strategy, data gathering and analysis, prototyping, deliverables, research operations (timeline, sampling strategy and recruitment, informed consent, etc.) and impact measurement.
Role: Project Lead & Research Lead
Challenge: Less than 50% of eligible clients who completed the CalWORKs application process showed up to start their mandatory job training. How could a week-long design sprint for three hours a day better help clients and employees across the entire service journey? How might this effort increase the top-level success metric above 50%?
Research: We recruited ten employees from different positions touching the service journey. In two, three-hour days, we tried to experience the client application and onboarding process by walking it, speaking with colleagues doing the work at each phase and taking the bus. We kept notes on a simple, paper template made for this project. We also visited a community organization to learn from clients about their service journey experiences through a group interview with them.
Co-Analysis & -Synthesis: In four hours split across two days, the project team mapped both the experiences of clients and employees. We identified the top obstacles and their systemic, underlying causes. We also developed a list of possible improvements to test that were then prioritized.
Notes: (1) A request for clients to have a more co-creative role across the project was declined. (2) This project required a deeper focus on non-digital processes given the technological constraints outside of CalWORKs’ control at the time.
Experimentation: In three more hours, we then developed specific improvements, including paper prototypes to test and measure with clear success metrics. We then summarized our insights and presented proposed improvements to the CalWORKs leadership team with 30-, 60- and 90-day milestones for implementation.
Equity Considerations: Employees and clients came from a variety of demographic backgrounds, roles in the service journey and levels of power (formal and informal) to provide a more holistic understanding of the problem and ways to make improvements.
Outputs: (1) A dedicated, bilingual employee was hired to be a receptionist to help clients more effectively. There was no one in this role for more than a year. (2) This receptionist and other frontline employees received customer service training. (3) A case review checklist was created for supervisors to help their teammates more effectively manage their cases. (4) The phone list maintained by a receptionist in the lobby was updated, helping them to contact the right people when clients needed assistance. (5) Employees in a whole division were not trained to use a database to update clients’ needs across the service journey. These employees all received training and a formal process was created to enter these data. (6) Screens hanging on the wall in the lobby to apply for CalWORKs started to inform clients about a separate building they would need to go to start job training services. (7) After completing the job training program, some clients would send thank you notes to employees. A standardized approach to share these successes with everyone in the division was developed and implemented.
Impact: (1) The rate of clients showing up for job training went from less than 50% when scoping the project to 70%+ after the project finished. (Other changes were also occurring in CalWORKs that may have contributed to the rise in this top-level success metric.) (2) Employees expressed appreciation for the new feedback loop about how they are helping clients.