Forms are the language of government

Allen Meyer
Apr 12 · 2 min read

Reflecting on the work of 2018 is interesting because the projects we work on in the Innovation Office are generally not confined to a singular calendar year. They are often part of complex processes that have evolved over long stretches, maybe decades. Making change within this system takes patience.

Perfect is the enemy of getting something done

In 2017, we mapped out one of the programs here. The process involves a ten-page form that was frequently cited as a cause of delays in the application process. The form was a Word document that was not locked so that if you started typing in it, everything began reflowing. Applicants and staff would then begin a process of faxing, calling, scanning and emailing — back and forth, eventually completing enough of the form to begin the process. The client management system being used does not have the ability for non-employees to fill out the form digitally, hence the paper form.

We decided to create a fillable PDF that applicant and staff could email to each other. This eliminated the need for faxing and printing. There was only one catch, the document needed a signature. A third-party app was chosen because the City and County of SF has a contract with them. Something cool happened once the app work flow was rolled out: It has the ability for the originator of the application (The City employee) to comment on the application once it is submitted, sending it back to applicants for revisions if they’re needed. The commenting and revising are all done via email creating a digital and interactive application process.

The creation of the fillable PDF, training of staff to use the app, and finally implementing the new form took until the fall of 2018 to complete. That was a year from when we originally mapped out the process. In December, we conducted user research with community partners who are most commonly using the form. The results where satisfying. The form easily fit into our partners’ workflow. Time is being saved by folks filling out the form and City staff are able to more quickly ask for revisions to the application.

Designing Human Services

We’re an innovation unit in San Francisco government’s Human Services Agency. We help design services across digital and non-digital touchpoints with an equity lens.

Allen Meyer

Written by

Visual Designer, Senior Business Analyst, San Francisco Human Services Agency — Innovation Office

Designing Human Services

We’re an innovation unit in San Francisco government’s Human Services Agency. We help design services across digital and non-digital touchpoints with an equity lens.

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