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April 2024Vol. 25, No. 3Using Human-Centered Design to Improve Human Services Programs

A recent brief from the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation explores how human-centered design may be used to address complex challenges faced by child welfare agencies and other human services sectors. Human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that involves working with those who will eventually use the solution. In a child welfare context, this could involve partnering with families to improve programs the families will ultimately use.

Originating in the technology sector, human-centered design in human services is a novel concept, according to the brief. However, considering the complex challenges faced by the humans services sector, human-centered design may promote effective, efficient, and compassionate service delivery. Some challenges in human services that human-centered design may help address include funding constraints, leadership and staffing problems, operating under competing demands, and changing regulatory requirements.

The brief defines human-centered design as a process and mindset, differentiates it from similar design and problem-solving approaches, and describes how the process is currently being used in human services. It outlines six key principles of human-centered design:

  • Understand who the end users are and their perspectives
  • Engage with end users throughout a process
  • Test solutions and revise them based on end user feedback
  • Use an iterative, not linear, approach and revisit earlier steps as needed
  • Consider the full context and experience of the end user and the solution  
  • Collaborate across disciplines

The brief includes three case examples that provide details on the use of human-centered design in human services: the Multnomah Idea Lab in Oregon, the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania, and the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Kentucky Division of Child Care.

The report, A Review of Human-Centered Design in Human Services, is available on the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation's website.