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Strengthening Connections Between Bay Area Social Service Providers

Benetech is a pioneer of software for social good, serving as a bridge between Silicon Valley and the social sector. Their work includes transforming how people with disabilities read and learn, protecting human rights defenders, and connecting people to the critical social services.

Social services providers offer critical relief for many folks in need of food, shelter, healthcare, job training, legal resources, family support services and more. Unfortunately, it can be hard to locate the right services. Many provider referral directories are maintained in communities by different agencies, but can be difficult to keep up to date and comprehensive.  This challenge is felt acutely by critical referral agencies like 211s, food banks, legal referral services, and hospitals.

Benetech is determined to address this problem – first in the Bay Area – by creating Benetech Service Net: an open standards service provider data exchange platform. In August of 2018, Benetech approached Exygy with a prototype of Service Net, asking for help testing with users and refining the prototype – to ensure that the Service Net platform would meet the needs of those working to serve our community’s most vulnerable populations.

Approach

Design sprints allow us to bring together stakeholders to co-create. Guided by Exygy’s team of design researchers and experience designers, the Benetech team conducted observational user research: observing prospective users (Information & Referral agencies in this case) in their day-to-day practices in order to provide information that would be most useful for Exygy’s design process. This information on the practices and behaviors would inform the design of a new system, collaboratively designed, human-centered, useful, and inclusive.

Using insights gleaned from the observational research, Exygy led Benetech and the Service Net stakeholders through a three-day design sprint:

Day 1: Who are our typical users?

We began by defining proto-personas – a sketch of user types – to gain empathy for Service Net’s target audiences. Through creating proto-personas, we explore predicted behaviors, biases, and motivations of our most typical user groups, and leverage our findings to custom-build a product for the unique needs of our target users.

Day 2: Is our prototype working?

Informed by what we had learned about our typical users on Day 1, we analyzed Benetech’s draft Service Net design through the eyes of our proto-personas. We audited and refined the platform, ideating on features that were no longer valid, and enhancing the areas that worked well. At the end of an intense Day 2, we had a new prototype, ready for testing.

Day 3: Put it to the test!

On the final day, we invited real Service Net users into our office. Together, we walked through the redesigned prototype, digging into the nitty gritty user flows that these data managers use every day. We were able to design with the users as they gave valuable feedback about what we got right (and what we were missing). We flagged the elements that were important to them, and identified what was not. Moving forward, we were able to inclusively revise our prototype to elevate the essential Service Net components based on the insights of local data managers.

Impact

The redesigned Service Net will support a more efficient safety net for those who need it most. The prototype was designed user-centered at every stage: from defining proto-personas of typical users, to evaluating our Service Net prototype with real life data managers from I&R agencies and other organizations in the field. Inclusive design empowers the users of Service Net – those at the front lines of care in the Bay Area – to spend more of their valuable time and energy on the communities they serve. By making it easier for those connecting our most vulnerable populations to the help they need, we are, in turn, building healthy and resilient communities.

“Throughout our collaboration, Exygy has come to the table as a true partner – they have gone the extra mile to ensure they delivered everything we needed to move forward with building our MVP. Exygy led our team and stakeholders through a creative and collaborative design process and the outcome – the latest prototype of Service Net – was very well-received. Exygy put time and care into making sure that the prototype’s design was informed by our users.”

– Anh Bui, Benetech Labs VP

 

Co-authored by Zach Berke & Anna Gibbons