What it means
Technology, policy, and budgets can change quickly, and the processes and systems we employ should be flexible and adaptive enough to respond to these changes.
Service delivery should respond to policy changes quickly and without friction for staff or clients. Policies should be designed with implementation in mind, and should be flexible to change if things don’t go as planned.
Why it matters
- Case Workers
- State Leaders
“No matter my circumstance, I want to feel a sense of security, confidence, and trust in the system I depend on. I need to know that the system works for me no matter what.”
Case workers say:
“I need to be able to efficiently process changes to cases. Not only that, I want to be sure that the system I’m working in is changing with policy so that we can adapt instead of starting from scratch.”
State leaders say:
“I need a technology system that can adapt to changing conditions at a low-cost, so that we’re not derailed every time policy shifts.”
How to do it
1. Employ agile technology and processes.
Build smart, and build for change.
- Processes should be designed with clear goals and outcomes.
- When building technology, iterate. Instead of building the whole thing at once, start small, and then take a step back and choose new items to prioritize.
- Systems can more easily shift and change when they are built as a set of modular components that work in concert but can be individually altered.
- Make sure the system is responsive to feedback by utilizing performance metrics and feedback loops.
- Get frequent feedback from clients by collecting real-time user data, either through digital analytics or qualitative user research. Use this real-time data to make decisions, instead of years-old estimates.
- Assign a dedicated product owner for eligibility systems. This should be someone who deeply understands and owns the entire process, end-to-end.
2. Implement the practices of delivery-driven policy.
By tightly coupling policy and delivery, governments can use data about how people actually experience government services to narrow the implementation gap and help policies achieve the outcome they intend.
- Policy should be written with implementation in mind to ensure that the implementation meets the intent of the policy.
- Staff multi-disciplinary teams that include digital and design professionals (who have the skills to accurately understand and solve for user needs) alongside policymakers and subject matter experts.
- Start small and iterate progressively on both the policy and its delivery, together.
- Build instrumented delivery systems that provide near-real-time feedback, creating mechanisms for experimentation that can inform policy development with the knowledge of what’s actually working towards the original intent.
- If service delivery reveals a needed change in policy, the policy should change to reflect better service delivery.
What we measure
Shorter Release Cycles
It should take 1 week or less to deliver a small technical update, and the system should respond promptly to a changing policy environment.
Fewer Bugs and Breaks
Delivered updates should introduce little to no regression errors.
Policy should be responsive to service delivery needs, and should have feedback loops that allow decision makers to understand the impact of change.
Delivery-Driven Policy in California: RAP Sheet Waivers
Code for America Fellows helped the CA Department of Justice shift a policy simply by bringing a paper form online. Low-income residents who need access to their RAP sheet can have a $25 fee waived, but for years the DOJ was using the federal poverty line to determine who qualified, not adjusting for high cost-of-living areas. The Fellows helped the DOJ process respond to changing needs by moving the form online and adding county-specific data, effectively making the policy more accessible and equitable.
GetCalFresh: Supporting Supplemental Security Income Recipients
In 2019, GetCalFresh worked closely with the CA Department of Social Services to implement a historic new policy expanding CalFresh benefits to SSI recipients. In preparation, we conducted targeted research to make the product responsive to the changing needs of a new set of users. As a result, implementation of the policy has resulted in nearly a third of likely eligible recipients applying through GetCalFresh, and a remarkably high approval rate.
Voter Registration: Implementing Policy That Wasn’t Written with 21st Century Technology in Mind
Well-intentioned laws around boosting voter registration among public benefits populations have provided minimal guidance for how to implement registration in a modern, user-friendly, web-based application. GetCalFresh is running live experiments that are responsive to changing needs to determine how best to motivate clients to register to vote as part of their benefits application experience.