As part of a larger initiative the State Innovation Incubator, or Si2*, has been working to update database infrastructure for the state of Illinois. Part of this initiative involves an application titled “Person 360º View” or Person 360 for brevity. Currently state agencies silo information in differing systems making it difficult to get a full understanding of how and where an individual may be affected. Person 360’s goal is to create a “golden record” of nine agencies information in one place.
The first agency that Si2 is working with is the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). For DCFS, the goal is to “develop a cross-device platform to allow field investigators and support staff quick access to and visualizations of critical information about children and families under investigation.”
*Si2 is an alias. Some information not affecting the outcome of the project has been changed to honor a nondisclosure agreement.
Research began by googling a few of the terms the stakeholders at Si2 had mentioned: SACWIS, CYCIS, SCR, KIDS… we quickly discovered that government projects mean lots of acronyms. We also discovered that a lot of the available material concerning government data infrastructure was outdated, sparse, redacted, and filled with double-speak.
The work done by DCFS employees is some of the most difficult imaginable and we were finding that the current infrastructure didn’t make that job any easier.
The opportunity to visit a DCFS office four hours away in Springfield, Illinois was our first chance to speak one-on-one with individuals with real experience. We conducted three in person interviews using a card sorting exercise. This field trip taught us more in an afternoon than all of the previous days of internet research. We were able to examine the process used and hear first-hand how DCFS employees prioritize safety and information.
Field investigators learn on the job, and the job contains dozens of unwritten and unaccounted for (by our team) processes. Our client had prepared us broadly but speaking one on one with people in the office revealed that there was no set training for database management and organization.
After speaking with subject matter experts we asked the interviewee to sort and rank 22 cards containing pieces of the “golden record,” as defined by our client. We found that some of these pieces were deemed not necessary and other pieces deemed crucial were missing.
Field investigators have a limited amount of time to spend with families and want to provide the best resources in that time frame. Our SME interviewee showed us a community resource pamphlet from 2004 that she used regularly to provide support to families. Everyone, including our stakeholder, was impressed with this simple resource.
Using the insights from our interviews we started defining where a design centered approach could have the greatest impact – helping us narrow in on the problem we wanted to solve, as well as define what design principles our solution should incorporate.
When an allegation is more serious there is more expediency is expected of the field investigator, and the necessary family data that could create a better understanding of the situation is rarely available. Our solution could provide not only the golden record, but allow investigators to prioritize high needs cases over necessary research.
We were able to conduct two rounds of concept testing with the goal of validating the information we prioritized actually fitting the mental model of the user.
Users liked how they could see their reports all at once, but did not need . The dashboard for the application,
The My Reports page provided users with a way to see all their reports at once, a highly rated feature. However, during testing we found out that color coding the allegation and abuse codes was unnecessary as most field investigators knew this info by heart. We improved the feature by adding proper naming conventions, providing options to organize the reports, removing the color code for allegations, and adding a time/status/phase.
Visual diagrams of family relationships were a bonus for users. We changed the original wireframe to a view that mirrored genograms commonly used by social workers. We added designations for guardians vs allegation perpetrators – which are sometimes the same person. We also moved additional family details to another screen to allow users to drill into information for a deeper understanding.
In order to provide more in-depth access to government and local community resources that can help their clients we improved on the functionality of community resources as a feature. In concept one we had included it as part of the 360 profile, but after testing we turned it into its own feature tab.
In addition to adding a ‘distance-from-me’ feature on the reports view to help field investigators plan their day, we added map features in the second concept. In the family view, investigators can see their distance from children’s households, where the incident occurred and could use the app to guide themselves without having to switch applications. It also could provide a way for field investigators to keep track of their mileage and cut down on paperwork for reporting purposes.
“I ALWAYS have to shuffle my files in the car based on location. The ‘distance from me’ feature would be perfect.”
-Subject Matter Expert Interview 5.19.16
Constructive feedback was often hard to obtain from our testers. Because the design of the application was a radical departure from the antiquated system users were accustomed to most testers were either effusive or disbelieving. Users often tended towards low tech in their day-to-day so getting feedback on technology preferences sometimes proved difficult.
Our Solution: Despite how validating it seemed to receive almost 100% positive feedback, we worked hard to probe individuals to gain an understanding of their underlying goals and motivations to better inform our next round of wireframes. Ultimately, this probing helped us gain a deeper understanding of how field investigators thought through their process.
Unlike designers in a three week sprint most of the amazing employees at DCFS do not work in an agile environment. Despite our best efforts we were not allowed access to a field investigator currently working as a DCFS agent until the usability testing phase.
Our solution: We worked closely with our subject matter experts to vet decisions and tested early prototypes with support staff. Staff included clerical, supervisors and even former field investigators employed in different roles.