About our prototype:

Many of the online forms we use, to do anything from booking appointments to buying movie tickets, are designed to put the user’s experience first. They strive to provide a consumer-friendly experience that ensures users will successfully complete their transactions and feel good about the outcome. Families applying for free and reduced price school meals for their students should get the same kind of experience: an appealing, easy-to-use form that makes users feel confident, not confused. So when our team learned about the E.A.T. School Lunch UX Challenge, we were inspired to bring our research- and experience-based expertise to this hackathon!

Our prototype is designed to put the needs of students and families first in the following ways:

(1) Presenting only a few questions at a time. Breaking down an application into smaller chunks can make it feel less overwhelming and help the user focus just on the question immediately at hand.

(2) Offering helpful tips and information along the way. We provide guidance to users throughout the process, including hover text to help clarify potentially confusing terms and an ever-present FAQs button the user can click anytime.

(3) Setting up users for success when reporting income. We know from our research that reporting income is one of the most challenging and complex parts of an online form for public benefits, often leading to user confusion and error. Our prototype breaks the process down into manageable steps. Users can add and subtract as many income sources as they need, and for each source they are prompted to pick from a list of pre-set categories. They can then report each income amount at whatever frequency they are familiar with, whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, twice a month, or monthly. The prototype takes it from there, handling all of the back-end calculations based on the information the user provided.

(4) Skipping questions that some users don’t need to answer. Asking questions that aren’t applicable can be confusing to a user, not to mention a waste of time. Our prototype determines the relevance of questions based on previous answers, and only serves up those that are needed for each user’s specific situation. For example, if all students in the household are foster children, then the prototype skips past questions about household income because those students are categorically eligible for free school meals.

We tested our prototype with three families to see what they thought of it. Overall they found it easy to use, especially compared to school meals program applications they have used in the past. Their feedback also helped us make refinements, such as changes to wording and placement of buttons, to make the experience clearer and more successful. See our submission’s video to learn more about our testing process and results.

With this user-tested approach, everyone involved benefits: users have an easier time completing the application, school administrators receive more accurate data and are therefore able to make more accurate eligibility determinations, and, most importantly, more eligible students can get the nutritious school meals vital to their health and well-being.

About our team:

Social Interest Solutions (www.socialinterest.org) is a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization that works with government agencies, health and social service providers, community-based organizations, health plans, and research & policy organizations to better connect people to the services they need by leveraging technology and influencing policy. For more than 10 years, we have promoted solutions that streamline the application process to improve access to critical programs and services for low-income individuals and families. Our electronic applications have facilitated the enrollment of more than 23 million people nationally into Medicaid and other federal, state, and local programs

gotoresearch (www.gotoresearch.com) is a San Francisco-based UX research firm specializing in usability testing and utilization of ethnographic methods to uncover the underlying needs and behaviors of people to deliver actionable, tangible insights and strategies to make products work with the way they really live. gotoresearch has focused on improving the user experience of similar online applications through three years of multiple state and national exchanges for healthcare enrollment. Through observation of more than 100 sessions, our team is dedicated to improving areas we can fix, including household and income definitions across the population.

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