Written in collaboration with Donna-Mae Shyduik, Director of Strategic Programs, Health and Human Services at Oracle.
The broad adoption of social media, mobile devices and responsive web content demand that human services agencies think differently about their outreach and engagement tactics with today’s connected citizens. If not, they risk the possibility of failing to meet their core mission and goals of providing services to those who may need it the most, an expanding population of divorced parents, teenage mothers, children entering the welfare system and citizens struggling with opioid addition and other health issues.
Human services agencies have some catching up to do. The opportunity is tremendous, and the potential positive outcomes for the most vulnerable populations can be life-changing. It simply starts with each agency systemically committing to establishing a digital identity and taking that first step.
While improving customer self-service channels and offering the most important content online seems obvious, today’s leaders need to plan appropriately to consistently deliver critical information in a way that’s accessible, personable and secure across today’s modern platforms. Digital engagement technologies can play an important role in helping to address a range of very real social needs that impact citizens across the country. Programs and information that can help in these scenarios exist – but getting that information into the right hands at the right time remains an opportunity that modern digital outreach efforts can help address.
Instead of the usual broad-based outreach campaigns, agencies need to target individuals in need through today’s widely available digital channels, including mobile applications and social media channels. Now, agency leaders can communicate gender-, geographic- and location-specific messages that encourage non-custodial parents (NCP) to learn more about a support program by visiting a campaign-specific website where they can complete an anonymous, online screening to determine eligibility. If eligible, the parent can enter personal information on a phone or other mobile device to apply for the program. This digital engagement model helps remove fears commonly associated with more traditional in-person processes – contacting the child support agency and pleading their unique situation, can be time-consuming and stressful. Digital interactions help remove some of these barriers, speed the overall process and improve trust and outcomes.
Digital processes can also help human services personnel more effectively identify and recruit the best potential foster parents in high-risk communities. Agencies can target and engage the most highly desired segments of the community population based not only on their location, but also other important key markers including gender, education, profession and more. By moving many of these tactics online and enhancing the experience through social and mobile platforms – including recruitment, training, and licensing processes – allows for a level of interaction that has never been available at scale. To top it off, all of these channels have near and real-time analytics capabilities that track the digital footprint anyone engaged so that program effectiveness can be measured and adjusted throughout the recruitment cycle.
Staff from community-based nutrition programs have long struggled not only to provide a specific service, but also to engage clients in a meaningful way. Digital engagement in this case could enhance existing services by introducing closed-loop social communities that would provide an additional channel to engage clients on a more frequent and convenient basis. These online communities offer a channel where people can communicate with like-minded folks, peers, and domain experts around topics and social causes they care about or want to learn more.
While digital engagement clearly offers important opportunities for citizens and agencies, some leaders struggle with how and when to start. Here are the key steps they need to take to get moving:
Consumer organizations learned at the dawn of the internet that digital channels were nothing more than another medium to deliver their message and engage potential customers on a continual basis. Real change requires a shift in behavior or position from one belief or understanding to another more desired belief or understanding that will alter an existing behavior.