Now is the time for digital services that build trust

An unprecedented surge in demand for public benefits during the pandemic has highlighted the constraints of brittle legacy systems and the need for simple, effective, and accessible services.

A Black woman wearing scrubs and a mask holds a coffee cup while waiting for her subway train.

About 22 million people have applied for unemployment benefits, in the U.S., in the last four weeks. That’s nearly ten times what the system has previously handled in such a short time. Government leaders are facing an unprecedented surge in need and the consequent challenges of quickly rolling out new programs and operational models in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In talking with civil servants and other organizations like U.S. Digital Response, we’ve heard loud and clear that it’s never been more important for government services to be simple, effective, and accessible to all. While the pandemic has increased the urgency of that work, it’s also highlighted the constraints of brittle legacy systems.

Nava was founded as a public benefit corporation to support critical services in times like these. Over the past five years, we’ve been trusted to solve some of the most urgent, challenging, and highly scrutinized government technology projects, from rescuing and launching Medicare’s Quality Payment Program, to streamlining the appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Here are a few ways we can help your team.

Move paper-based and in-person processes online

Many government services, especially social safety net programs such as WIC and SNAP, rely on paper documentation and in-person interviews to make an eligibility, claim, or appeal decision. These processes are now moving online or over the phone.

To support a similar transition in the State of Vermont, we built an uploader tool for Vermonters to securely submit their eligibility documents from their mobile devices. The uploader is a reliable and robust official channel, enabling Vermonters to apply to 37 health care and financial benefit programs, more quickly and efficiently than before. During our pilot, 55 percent of users were able to upload documents within 24 hours, compared to just 11 percent before. And users received eligibility decisions in four days, compared to nine days before. Alongside the design and development of the tool, we also created a process that helped State staff integrate the uploader into their program’s operations, according to their timelines and priorities.

As another example, we supported the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) multi-year modernization effort, creating a suite of digital services that automates workflows. One tool in the suite makes it easy for government staff to schedule and host virtual hearings. Veterans can call in from any device instead of traveling to D.C. or a regional office. The services we built are helping Veterans get the resources they need while saving VA staff valuable time during the pandemic.

Implement new and supplementary services quickly

Legislators in state and federal government are responding to the pandemic by changing eligibility processes and criteria and rolling out new and supplemental services. For example, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act expands state-run unemployment insurance benefits and creates a new unemployment assistance program. Agencies need to be able to quickly implement these services and use the new flexibility to meet the urgent need. On top of that, these benefits are often available retroactively, which means implementing agencies are already behind.

This is also something Nava has experience helping with. In Massachusetts, we’re supporting the state’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave program. We’re developing a new, digitally-native constituent service under an aggressive legislative deadline. Together with our state partners, we’ve designed an approach that prioritizes speed, reduces risk through minimum viable products and targeted roll-out strategies, and supports iteration as we learn from users and uncover program and policy complexity.

Scale with cost-efficient, flexible, and fault-tolerant systems

Services built on legacy systems are unable to adapt or buckling under the demand; now is the time to modernize. We have firsthand experience responding to urgent needs, under high scrutiny. When crashed at launch, our team was brought in to design and build a new application frontend. With iterative, agile, and human-centered processes we quickly designed and built a mobile-responsive, fast frontend. 50% more users enrolled than through the legacy application, and the average time to complete an application was reduced by more than 50%.

We can quickly build user-centered products and features that simplify, automate, and accelerate processing in parallel with inflexible legacy systems. Our product managers and engineers can also help you deploy reliable, scalable systems that can handle peak service size and usage.

Start making changes now

In talking with civil servants across the country, we heard about the challenges that come with moving paper-based and in-person processes online. In an effort to help, we’re sharing toolkits we hope will be useful in the immediate future.

Let us know how we can help

The work we do and decisions we make now will greatly affect programs and the people they serve for decades to come. Quick changes can further support a long-term path to making services more simple, effective, and accessible to all.

We’re here to help your team start small, learn quickly, and foster a culture that embraces change. Reach out to let us know how we can help.

Written by

Kevin Boyer

Software Engineer

Kevin Boyer is a software engineer at Nava. Before transitioning to engineering, Kevin worked as a program analyst and client solutions manager at Nava and a policy researcher at a non-profit.
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Jessi Bull

Delivery Lead

Jessi Bull was a delivery lead at Nava. She's also worked as an analyst and program lead for the Food and Nutrition Service, the city of San Francisco, and the US Government Accountability Office.

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