Social service program developers often believe that participants (children, youth, and families) must receive a certain quantity of a service to achieve the desired positive outcomes. The social service field, however, often struggles to provide adequate levels of service because it is difficult to engage and retain participants and staff. The high level of participant and staff engagement and retention needed to make an impact is elusive for two reasons. First, the field often does not design evidence-based programs and innovations that can be used easily in communities. Second, the children, youth, and families that use these programs are not often involved in the process of program design.
It is critical that the voices of all stakeholders—program administrators, staff, and families—are heard when organizations design programs and innovations to meet their needs. Human-Centered Design (HCD) ensures authentic stakeholder engagement in the program design process by creating innovations and solutions that focus on co-creation, inclusion, transparency, and the breaking down of hierarchies. The HCD process utilizes a deep understanding of users’ (or participants’) needs and day-to-day challenges. HCD guarantees that programs and innovations account for users’ culture, context, and constraints. This means that the programs or innovations developed will be feasible, sustainable, and more engaging to participants.
In other words, HCD can improve social services by encouraging all stakeholders to identify new ways of thinking and seek solutions through creative problem-solving, the testing of possible solutions, and advancing practical ideas.
How can HCD support social services such as early childhood home visiting? An example: Child Trends and Trilogy Interactive are using HCD processes to create a tool to improve the community-level systems and networks in which home visiting programs operate. This tool will assist state and federal home visiting administrators in making resource allocation decisions, informing investment in new sites, and contextualizing outcome data to better understand why some outcomes may (or may not) be achieved. The project uses focus groups, interviews, and other methods that build empathy for the needs and challenges of the ultimate users of the tool, ensuring that the project team listens to home visiting staff and program administrators. These HCD processes will ultimately lead to a tool that is better able to support home visiting programs to connect with community resources.
Expanded use of Human-Centered Design will allow for innovations that are scalable and effective because they will appeal to end users, or stakeholders. The more the social service field relies on frameworks that use authentic stakeholder engagement and feasibility to identify problems and solutions, the more efficient and effective social service provision can become, and the more we can achieve population-level improvement for children and families.