Michigan had the longest public benefits application in the country. The application was fragmented across five different benefits programs and contained 64 pages, 1,000 overlapping questions, and convoluted language. These complications burdened Michigan residents and forced agency officials to waste valuable time correcting errors.
In 2018, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) worked with Civilla to streamline the application process and to create a single form for all assistance programs. Civilla collected feedback from Michigan residents and agency staff to inform their approach. The team removed redundancies, utilized plain language, and implemented best practices for visual design. They also redesigned caseworker interview scripts to reflect these updates to the process. To ensure that the changes endure, the agency introduced the new application process to 5,000 staff through a peer training model and to community organizations which help Michigan residents apply for benefits.
Project Outcomes and Impact
The new application is 80 percent shorter than its previous iteration and 90 percent of users successfully complete it in less than 20 minutes. Residents are now more confident with their answers. As such, caseworkers spend 75 percent less time correcting errors on forms and half as much time processing them.
Design principles can successfully centralize and simplify applications that are spread across disparate agencies by using plain language and eliminating repetitive questions and processes. Organizations may also institute peer learning models to help staff adopt and gain familiarity with new procedures.