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NYC Department of Social Services
Client: New York City Human Resources Administration HRA
The Human Resources Administration or Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS) is the department of the government of New York City in charge of the majority of the city's social services programs. HRA helps New Yorkers in need through a variety of services that promote employment and personal responsibility while providing temporary assistance and work supports. HRA is the largest city social services agency in the United States. It has a budget of $9.7 billion, employs over 14,000 people, and serves over 3 million New Yorkers.
Roles: Lead Designer, Developer, Analyst View Prototype
As the largest social services agency in the country, the City of New York (City) Human Resources Administration (HRA), has undertaken a new Case Management System (CMS) initiative for the Employment Services (ES) and the Wellness, Comprehensive Assessment, Rehabilitation and Employment (WeCARE) programs, with a goal to create a consolidated Case Management System for these programs to manage employability and wellness for HRA Clients.
HRA was in the process of reforming its policies and procedures to more effectively fight poverty and income inequality, and as part of this mission, will implement a thorough and comprehensive approach to employment services that completely recognizes the needs of individual and family clients in order to more effectively help each of them enter or return to the workforce and build sustainable careers, or access other appropriate benefits and services if employment is not an option.
SEAMS is an enterprise level application intending to consolidate and expand on more than a dozen disparate and siloed applications that help HRA manage and monitor the administration of medical, employment, and social services to residents in need.
Design Guide - Multiple designers were needed to help realize often conflicting visions from different sectors of HRA. Using research and collaboration, a design system was created to ensure quick creation and easy maintenance of a large number designs
With over a thousand screens needed to help in task ranging from case management to assessments, assignment features, job placement, timekeeping auditing, and administration, the benefits to maintaining a design system became apparent. As lead designer, collaboration was done to achieve consensus and help other designer produce consistent deliverables
The design system was pivotal not only in helping to offer deliverables on time, but in keeping developers informed on how the application front-end was expected to evolve
To achieve cost savings, familiar patterns were established and referred to whenever possible, and new patterns would go through approval processes that included managers, developers, clients, and staff. In depth walkthroughs with the client used the design guide to ensure universal understanding on what would be built, and how it would function.
There are a myriad of roles and permissions to consider when logging in, but they will be greeted with access to their applications, important announcements, and statistics about what services may be in demand or in use.
The SEAMS dashboard features a list of key items (modules within the application), announcements, and statistics to give direct access to what matters most to them
Client Management and Worklist
Client cases are created with HRA for any number of reasons so flexibility is vital. Clients need to be properly represented and offered the right services. Staff and administrators need to observes when and how they need to assist the millions of people seeking assistance.View Prototype
To offer a solution for multiple user types and scenarios, a robust case summary and worklist system was devised to help get a sense of who a client is, and where they are in a large system of many programs.
The case summary is the starting point when searching for any client, and it needed to show only the information need, while still being relevant and useful to clients who aren't engaged with most of the HRA programs offered.
The Case summary is meant to display info on demographics, timeline, upcoming appointments, related household members, and any assignments, assessments, declarations, and services they may have access to
From the case summary, an agency, staff member, or administrator can access whichever programs the client is subscribed to so they can get a sense of their schedule and their calendar
The client calendar is used to help view and schedule activities and assignments, which are crucial in helping clients get on track with the knowledge to eventually gain independence from government assisstance
Administrative Staff and vendor workers throughout the city can monitor multiple clients through worklist that are designed to handle large sets of data.
Vendors can assign clients to staff workers to help with offering services, counseling, and perform assessments. This check-in process accounts for different programs, and takes clients that are referred from other worklist
For every client, the goal is to find out what services they need, and measuring how those services help to improve their circumstances. Whether its helping with drug abuse, or improving a career through with a vocational course, SEAMS will help to record outcomes and develop a profile about what the client has achieved.
Record outcomes detailing new skills, licenses, and employment that were obtained as a result of completing an activity
Clients can record how many hours they spent completing their activities. The timekeeping tool can help vendors and HRA staff track how a client is spending their time using resource offered by the city and flagging those who may fall short of their hours
There are many more features afforded to clients to connect them to vital services and benefits. Time was spent interacting with clients and staff members at the HRA administrative center and at various job centers and vendor sites all throughout the city to understand how SEAMS can solve specific problems while being integrated and consistent with a bigger system
- Job Retention - Monitor milestones after clients have received a new job and allow for follow up on how well they are aligning with their long term goals.
- Client Communication - Tracking all the phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings conducted by the client as interactions. Interactions can have outcomes, notes, and other processes to follow up depending on the type of interaction.
- Education Services - Allow clients to take assignments for in class or online courses based on how they performed on their assessments
- Carfare - Programs to offer transportation services and metro cards to help clients perform their activities and assignments.
The client case is an important centerpiece in a case management system, but much of the complexity lied in the entities that offer so many capabilities to the client.
Most of the system administration functionality is for internal HRA staff that helps them maintain all the entities and records that represent the programs, sites, jobs, and more. The system administration piece of SEAMS is critical for maintaining the data and capabilities View Prototype
Understanding the mechanism by which the city distributes resources is as challenging as understanding bureaucracy, but the capabilities came together when laying out and rearranging the entities to understand how they all are categorized and interact with each other.
The organization chart for all the entities represented in SEAMS match up with. Department offer employment services or medical services (which must be separated for privacy reasons).
There are various services which offer job programs, or education services which are given to the client as assignments. External agencies and schools throughout the city contain sites that have locations, contract parameters, and other details. They allow clients to take courses and other activities that can help them complete their assignment types for that program.
There are also entities to handle job orders, training orders, courses, appointments, and assessments. This has give the agency unprecedented flexibility to add new schools that a client can attend, or new employers that they can work for
*Agencies are external vendors that offer services to residents in return for funding from HRA. They have multiple location and sites and have specific contract parameters that detail what they are getting funding for. *
Sites are a complicated low level entity which contain tightly coupled associations between contracts, locations, courses and activities. An agency can have multiple sites in one location if they have multiple contracts and serve different programs. Sites can offer appointments, assignments, and courses for clients to attend to satisfy requirements for benefits
When adding a new type of agency, or site, or school, an approval process begins to ensure that clients are not assigned places that have not been vetted by HRA. Request for multiple entities are consolidated to ensure quick responses.
*SEAMS maintains a list of schools and courses throughout the city so they can send clients to different training courses and get them the education they need to gain meaningful employment
Vendors can schedule events and activities for clients to join. Clients are grouped into slots that match up to the vendor's capacity to handle incoming people during certain times. Associating slots with vendors and clients proved to be a complicated and counter-intuitive endeavor which relied on understanding business rules that were not obvious
System administrators are afforded great flexibility to change assessments, drop-down values, and rules to comply with legal, and business changes.
Assessments and other aspects of the system can be adjusted in the administrative settings to reduce the need for HRA to request additions for changes in state and program regulations.
System administration and settings are often overlooked, but can be especially critical to enterprise level applications that satisfy obscure business requirements. Lots of planning and discussions were made in how to organize the entities, group separate functionalities, and consolidate multiple ways of changing options for select programs.
Assessment and Assignments
Assessment and Assignments - With any new client seeking assistance, the priority is figuring out their circumstances and asking questions about what they need. Various Assessments for different programs are used to ascertain where the client should be assigned View Prototype
Assessments offer predefined questions that are used to gather detailed information about a client. This information will be used to determine their most appropriate assignment and as search criteria for training and job options. There are various assessments for different types of programs and client circumstances. The primary goal was unifying how all assessments were handled yet allowing flexibility for unique workflows to create, maintain, edit, and make appropriate assignments based on how questions are answered.
Providing gateways for individual programs to reach out to both community participants, and organizations that can provide them services
Clients primarily start with the employment assessment and employment plan, where HRA can inquire about language, education, children employment, background, housing stability, veteran status, and much much more. Often clients can be directed to complete smaller, more program specific and more target assessments to get to their proper assignment more quickly.
Outside of the general EA/EP (employability assessment/ employability plan) there are assessments for:
- ABAWD for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents
- NCP for non-custodial parents
- Venture for finding new education opportunities
After completing their assessments, clients receive a list of assignments they can take at various schools, employers, and community vendors to compliment the benefits they need. These assignments can offer a structured way to help clients grow and contribute to society
Assessments types have their own set of questions, but still feature a familiar interface and process to reduce training time and confusion. The NCP assessment for non-custodial parents ask additional questions to account for special circumstances and child support
There are additional forms to handle Training voucher request with ITA and FIA3A forms. ITA (Individual Training Account) is used to help assign clients to specific courses if they meet eligibility requirements. FIA3A (Family Independence Administration) is a Job Notice used to capture employment information reported by applicants/participants. This information may include new employment or changes in employment information such as hours or earnings. Other means of employment declaration was derived from the FIA3A form to differentiate the process and the effects for when clients obtain employment.
Aside from filling out assessments for information, clients can also enter their current employment information.This information will then be used to re-evaluate the client’s budget. The client will need to provide proof and information about the wage, frequency, employer, title and other information about the job. There is a potential for up to 4 different variations for capturing this information
High level model for how the entities, assessments, assignments, and worklist can potentially effect each other.
To cover the needs of different, often competing agencies, an untold number of charts and meeting and graphs were need to ensure understanding with multiple parties.
It's difficult to get a simple and elegant product for such a massive and complicated problem. What was important was to always look at the end results of designing such a system, which ultimately helps the city distribute much needed benefits. Visiting job centers and worker stations across the city to helped humanize the contributions and build up empathy for the most vulnerable, and the staff members who have dedicated their careers to serving them.