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Designing a self-service needs tool that will offer Minnesotans personalized, local referrals

To make the human services more understandable and approachable for clients and potential clients, the Minnesota Department of Human Services aims to make its systems more intuitive, streamlined and human-centered. These efforts are impossible without participation by and collaboration with partners, communities and others as we move toward integrated services for the people who need them.

In the early stages, we and our partners are planning to design a new digital “front door” to access services in Minnesota. One of the first tools under development is a self-service needs tool to make it easier for Minnesotans to locate available programs and services based on their unmet needs. The tool also anticipates referral information to resources so people can take action in real time. With about ten brief yes or no questions, the tool will not determine eligibility for programs, but it will put people down the right path to accessing them.

Read about a shared vision


The tool

The tool will help people understand the resources available to help address their unmet needs across a variety of areas like food, housing, education, employment and child care. It will be quick, easy and optional, and it will help point people to referral resources that are unique to their families’ needs and are available locally.

The work

The frontline staff who navigate our current systems are in the best position to shape the design of the self-service needs tool. As we connect with frontline workers, our engagement and design processes strive to better understand the role that public support programs play in people’s lives, as well as find out about their needs and hopes. These findings will frame our inquiries to design a quick, easy and personalized pathway to services though a more intuitive, human-centered experience that meets people where they are.

The timeline

The research, engagement, policy and design work for this project is taking place through summer 2021. Following the completion of this phase, analysis will be undertaken to determine a timeline for IT development and rollout. This will involve additional engagement and human-centered design efforts. The self-service needs tool is related to several other initiatives around integrated service delivery, and the timing will be coordinated.

Current state of the work

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re using online engagement platforms instead of in-person events. We look forward to resuming in-person engagement in the future.

Collaborating with counties and tribal nations

County and tribal nation human services agencies are our close partners in service delivery. They have been collaborators on developing our integrated services model and our Modernization Strategic Plan, and serve on governance boards that have oversight for this work. We recently completed a series of conversations with staff from 10 counties focused on their perspectives in how to design the tool that will work for the people they serve and for them. A group of staff from Bois Forte, Red Lake and White Earth tribal nations have been working with us to learn about the project, provide initial feedback on concepts and designs, and help shape the way we work with tribal members and organizations that serve them.

Collaborating with the Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council

We’ve been working with members of the Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council to introduce the project, gather initial feedback and shape our approach to working with community organizations and the people we serve. With the council’s feedback and assistance, we are moving forward on a user engagement plan that will focus on interviews and surveys.

Collaborating with Wilder Research and community organizations

We are just beginning to build a network of partners and people we serve who can help us along the way as we design of the tool. Wilder is conducting community-focused research, consulting on our methods and ensuring that we have great representation from across communities and individual identities. In 2020, we engaged them to conduct interviews about the tool with community leaders and organization staff across the state. They also conducted a comprehensive research review, which provides important grounding information to the project.


Co-creating through engagement

All partner and community engagement efforts are viewed through a human-centered design lens, which solves problems by placing the people affected by change at the center of decision making. It focuses on human values and needs, builds empathy, solicits input from people and uses it all to inform design. Talking to many people and trying different things are important parts of the process. Voices from across the state representing different perspectives will be contacted. Throughout all phases, we will focus on accessibility, equity and inclusive design. The engagement process will bring in the diverse perspectives of counties, tribal nations, the people we serve, providers, organizations and others. Some of the ways we will reach people include:

  • Sessions to provide user experience design feedback on prototypes and design concepts
  • Interviews and focus groups
  • Presentations and updates to stakeholders/partners
  • Surveys
  • Gathering information from DHS business areas

Learn more

  • The vision for this work begins to assemble a picture of a person or family’s current situation
  • This tool is the subject of DHS’s partnership with Wilder Research to gather design insights from community leaders
  • This tool is a core part of the Integrated Services Business Model
  • This tool is a focus of our work on User Experience Design. Learn more about The Persona Project
  • The work to design and develop this tool is part of the Modernization Plan
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