Applying Human-Centered Principles to California Health and Human Services

Sonal Ambegaokar
May 28, 2024

In its recently released IT and Data Strategic Plan, the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) highlights the importance of placing people at the center of how government programs and services should operate. This focus on people is also at the heart of how A1M Solutions works to support government programs that promote better health outcomes for all.

Specifically, CalHHS emphasizes that technology and data solutions should adopt a holistic lens and put individuals and communities “at the center of service design and delivery.”  Based on our experience designing and building technology solutions for health and human services agencies, A1M Solutions not only applauds, but can assure CalHHS that the goals and objectives outlined in the IT and data strategic plan are achievable. 

In particular, below are three objectives in CalHHS’ plan that mirror our daily practice and are core to what it means to apply a human-centered approach to technology solutions:

Putting the Person in Person-Centered

In the past, IT projects emphasized the technology over who and how the technology would be used. For example, technology projects often began by creating business requirements, yet the process of obtaining requirements was rarely inclusive or democratic. In addition, under the former “waterfall” approach to technology development, user acceptance testing (UAT) was often done only after a solution had been designed, built and was about to be deployed. Focusing on the product over people would inevitably lead to project delays, rework, and unintended consequences.

Fortunately, government agencies and vendors have recognized that seeking user input early and often in the design and development cycle (via agile methodology) helps prioritize user requirements, addresses design and development problems early, and allows for a longer period for users to understand how the new system will work and helps identify where business processes may conflict or need to be changed before the solution goes live.

To truly create technology solutions that are person-centered, IT projects should start where A1M Solutions starts by:

  1. Creating a research plan that clearly outlines what info is assumed, what remains unknown, and what research methods would be most effective to allow users to share their insights. 
  2. Conducting user research with a wide variety of stakeholders.
  3. Creating customer journey maps to understand how a technology solution fits within an entire process and identify other stakeholders who will be impacted.
  4. Developing a service design blueprint to identify the interdependencies between user groups, steps in the process that run concurrently or consecutively, and the expected outcomes for different user groups.

These practices help ensure:

  • We actively listen.
  • We meet users where they are.
  • We can develop an end-to-end model that reflects the explicit and implicit needs of all stakeholders.

Seeing the Whole Person

A common challenge in any organization or government agency is that departments are often specialized and operate in silos—each with its own budget, staffing, and priorities. Even departments that may rely on the same IT system may not see how they fit together as part of a larger picture. As a result, stakeholders of an IT project should not be treated as a monolithic group (where one department represents the needs of all departments). In fact, there may be tensions or even mistrust among business owners in the same organization. 

Successful IT solutions and projects need to see the larger picture and understand competing needs. A1M Solutions does this by:

  1. Building teams with expertise in four core competencies: design, technology, policy, and data
  2. Identifying enterprise wide projects or solutions that can benefit the agency as a whole
  3. Embedding domain or subject matter experts in the development team to provide organizational insights that help streamline development and reduce the need to ask basic questions of business owners, thereby building trust.

These practices help ensure:

  • Technology leaders consider Program & Operational leaders as equal partners in enterprise IT projects rather than just as business owners or users.
  • Technology delivery meets the organization’s needs across departments and users.
  • Technology solutions are designed and built for interoperability.

Delivering on Outcomes

There have been several examples in the past where multi-million dollar IT projects for the government were long-delayed, over budget, or ultimately did not achieve the intended results. This may have been due to government agencies failing to include specific outcomes or metrics for vendors in the RFP or contract. With the increased focus on metrics, OKRs, and actionable data in both the private and public sectors, it is important for both agencies and vendors to know what success looks like when designing and developing technology solutions.

Agencies may need help in determining how a technology solution will help them meet their strategic goals or desired outcome. A1M Solutions does this by:

  1. Identifying and articulating our understanding of the agency’s overall objectives and purpose for a project in our proposals
  2. Identifying the intended and unintended results on different stakeholders through the service delivery design blueprint
  3. Providing multiple opportunities for users to share suggestions and recommendations before and after the design and development of a technology solution (e.g., via user research, surveys, or feedback buttons). This allows for continuous improvement and prevents us from equating silence or lack of user feedback with positive outcomes.

These practices help ensure:

  • There is a clear and agreed upon desired future state.
  • Outcomes that matter most are those that help improve things for people.
  • Outcomes are continually monitored through feedback loops.

By adopting the practices outlined above, agencies and vendors will be able to avoid rework in IT projects, improve user adoption to new technology, and ensure technology is of, by and for the people it serves. 

Photo of the beautiful California coastline by Austin Neill on Unsplash

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