More Than a Fresh Coat of Paint: A Guide on Preparing for Human-Centered Redesign

December 7, 2021–By Katie Sullivan, Sara Soka, Lena Selzer, and Elle Meyers

Social safety net benefits programs are meant to help Americans access supports they need to improve their lives. Yet, complex forms and processes can often get in the way of residents securing and keeping these benefits, impacting their lives and causing inefficiencies for frontline staff. 

Redesigning applications, renewals, and correspondence to center the experiences and needs of residents and frontline staff is one of the most impactful things state and local government agencies can do to strengthen social safety net benefits delivery. With heightened public support for creating more equitable systems, combined with funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, states have an opportunity to seize this moment to reimagine how they deliver public benefits. But for government agencies interested in using a human-centered approach to redesign, it’s not always clear where to begin. 

To help agencies take the first step, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University and nonprofit design studio Civilla teamed up to co-author Preparing for Human-Centered Redesign

This readiness guide highlights examples of large-scale and smaller-scale changes that have been implemented in other states, including Michigan where the Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) partnered with Civilla to launch a new benefits application in 2018. The redesign integrated the state’s five largest public benefits programs for 2.5 million residents across the state into one form. For residents, the streamlined form is 80 percent shorter and can be completed in half the time. For caseworkers, processing time has been halved, in part due to a 75-percent reduction in time spent correcting errors. 

Designed for directors or staff members at government agencies, this user-friendly guide provides a framework to help scope a redesign project of your own. It’s complete with checklists to help assess your agency’s readiness for redesign, as well as guidance on paths forward to help you get started.

We’re publishing Preparing for Human-Centered Redesign on the heels of the launch of Civilla Practica, an online curriculum for agencies. Through self-guided courses, practitioners can build a foundation in human-centered design, and gain tangible user research and design skills. We developed this readiness guide to equip you with the context you need to get the most out of the Civilla Practica courses and to set your agency up for success with redesign. 

This guide is also part of a larger initiative by the Beeck Center to document innovations in social safety net benefits delivery driven by human-centered service design, data-informed practices, and responsive technology with a goal of spreading proven practices more widely. You can find other guides and resources here.

To view or download the guide, visit here

Feel free to reach out to us if you have questions about this guide or want to share how you’re thinking about redesign to deliver a more human-centered safety net in your state: and

Katie Sullivan and Sara Soka are Social Safety Net Benefits Fellows at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

Lena Selzer is Co-Founder and Senior Director of Civilla.

Elle Meyers is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.