Transforming the way technology powers social services

In the wake of immediate steps taken to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, social service agencies have had to quickly change business operations in order to protect their staff, while still allowing them to provide help and support, as well as implement the new flexibilities in policy and procedures provided by changes in federal, state, and local policy.

The challenge

As a result of the need to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, we face an immediate, unprecedented dilemma: A significant increase in demand for basic needs at a time when social service agencies are struggling to maintain operations during social distancing directives.

Public programs that provide food (SNAP and WIC), health (Medicaid/CHIP), and income assistance (TANF and unemployment benefits) are available, but even before the pandemic, there were known barriers for those who are eligible. These barriers exist due to the complexity of eligibility rules, business processes used by local, state, and nonprofit agencies, and inefficient, antiquated technology systems.

Over the past decade, state health and human services agencies responsible for administering these basic supports have worked to modernize and streamline their eligibility and enrollment processes, however, change has been extremely slow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare how this incrementalism approach to technological change will now force individuals and families to navigate burdensome and confusing systems and processes, stress and frustration, likely without the critical support they need when they need it.

The solution

Connecting individuals and families to services and support, quickly and efficiently, is more important now than ever.

Technology has the potential to revolutionize how public-serving institutions provide support and services to people during critical times in their lives. This technology has the power to make these institutions more accessible, coordinated, and responsive to community needs. Digital tools can also help inform and empower individuals to make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and communities with greater speed and ease than traditional methods.

With technology, the diverse sectors that provide basic support, education, and civic engagement can also work together seamlessly to ensure all the needs of individuals, children, and families are better understood and to provide a network of critical support in times of transition or crisis.

Nonprofit organizations who provide technology solutions and services are working with state and local agencies and community-based organizations to enable the adoption of best practices common in the commercial technology sector and appropriate for the public sector. These practices drive processes and IT systems to be more person-centric, user-friendly, efficient, and outcome driven.

The Social Tech Playbook for COVID-19 Response is a compilation of these best practices and is designed to provide practical and timely guidance to local and state agencies, and community-based organizations, as they rise to meet the overwhelming demand for social services.

The Social Tech Collaborative is working to transform the way technology powers social services. Learn more.