Residents in poverty-affected communities like East Austin often face extensive barriers towards accessing healthcare and social services and lack fora for community engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic increased and contributed to many of these challenges.
The Design Institute for Health undertook a grant-funded initiative to improve engagement and healthcare access in one affordable housing complex in East Austin. The team conducted interviews and hosted a workshop with residents to implement participatory design principles. Using this research, the team tested many in-person programs, including a coffee break to bring residents together, a program to help children with their homework, and a program to teach residents about nutritional health. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a transition to virtual solutions.
After facing low levels of engagement online, the institute prioritized solutions to provide individual support, flexibility, accessibility, and constant communication. The team used a survey to gauge resident needs, phone calls and e-mails to connect to residents, and flyers to spread information about additional resources. The team used Lifesize—an accessible, web-based platform—to host these services. Additionally, the team implemented group texting for residents to engage with each other and schedule services.
Project Outcomes and Impact
The team hired a social worker to provide long-term support to the initiative as a service coordinator. The coordinator expanded the project to include COVID-19 safety kits. This program provided 40 households and more than 100 residents with masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies contributed by other residents.
The institute drew four lessons for implementing similar forms of human-centered design from this project. These include: introducing individual advocates to leverage personal relationships with residents, delivering services consistently to build trust, collaborating with property managers to expand outreach, and prioritizing accessible and secure digital solutions.