How We Work: To Help WIC Agencies Make Critical Technology Decisions, We Take a Closer Look at the Needs of Users

They want to get it right. WIC agencies across the country are using technology to improve service delivery and increase enrollment; as they do, staff and administrators have a lot of questions. Can a WIC beneficiary meet recertification requirements via a video call? Can tele-interpretation help a county deliver information to its Cantonese-speaking residents? How do we get these tools? How do we meet privacy standards? How will I ensure the tool can be used by staff in different locations? What needs to be in the contract with a vendor who is creating an App for our community? WIC Staff and Administrators filled the room with questions such as these at a 2017 listening session on WIC and technology hosted by the National WIC Association.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) knew that Social Interest Solutions (SIS) had a team that was savvy in both tech and policy and determined enough to seek the answers to these questions, so she asked us to partner in figuring it out. SIS Senior Policy Analyst Hilary Dockray and Director of Policy Innovation Julia Silas began an extensive research project that resulted in Launching New Digital Tools for WIC Participants: A Guide for WIC Agencies.

The SIS Strategy & Innovation team’s planning process in action

Dockray and Silas evaluated the implementation of similar tools in public agencies and general trends that were emerging in the larger field of Telehealth. But, they knew that good policies reflect an understanding of how people use the tools and resources that are available to them, so they went a few steps further. They researched how millennials and post-millennials, the primary age-group of people using WIC benefits to support their families, used technology. They also considered how the “digital divide”—unequal access to information based on economic class and region— impacted how people used phones and computers.

Low-income adults are much less likely to have high-speed internet service at home, which limits the kinds of tools they may be able to easily use. Image from: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Then, they dug in and called people who use the current systems. Dockray and Silas had in-depth conversations with people who help assist WIC recipients at all levels—they talked to state-level administrators who decide what tools to purchase as well as local WIC agency staff that work one-on-one with WIC participants to provide them services. They captured some powerful stories that help make the importance of mindful tool design and implementation tangible. For example:

  • At Davidson County WIC in Tennessee, staff often print out images of WIC-eligible items for participants to take to the store so they can compare the image with store items. The images are particularly helpful with participants who do not read English. Digital tools can be designed to include visualizations to help non-English readers identify WIC-eligible items. (WIC Toolkit, p. 4)
  • Staff at Community Medical Centers, Inc. in California recognized that small actions by staff can help WIC participants use digital tools. They created physical environments that encouraged participants to download a new digital tool inside the WIC agency office. Ensuring that Wi-Fi was available and having staff take a moment to help the participant download the app in front of them made all the difference. (WIC Toolkit, p. 45)
The report provides sample evaluation criteria to guide agencies when comparing vendors.

The WIC Toolkit that Dockray and Silas created recommends best-practices in procurement and includes how to integrate the tool into everyday business processes. Silas said this procurement and contract information is key to program success. “If you don’t get what you need in there at the beginning, it can cost thousands or even millions of dollars to add anything new. So I recommend that WIC agencies incorporate all the ideas of digital tools into the contract. When they hire a vendor they might not have user testing as part of the process— you must write it in. We helped bring technological considerations into the policy realm.”

Dockray hopes the project “influences people’s mindset—we encourage good design, paths for feedback, and data for analysis. We want tech tools and projects to work well for agencies in providing nutritional support for families.” 

See for yourself! View the full toolkit.

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