How might we make social welfare more accessible to Thai people?
Thai Gov Design Community and Digital Government Development Agency (DGA) have joined force to explore how to make social welfare more accessible to Thai people. The goal of this collaboration is to demonstrate to government organizations the value of solving problems from people’s perspective, in contrast to the traditional top-down approach.
The Project Background
One of DGA’s missions is to improve government digital services. DGA reached out to us after seeing how we helped Thai Revenue Department to understand and find ways to help online sellers understand about their tax duties. With the same goal in mind, we decided to organize design challenge together.
We picked social welfare as the topic because the COVID-19 had affected the lives of so many people, and they were in desperate needs for government supports. Despite the releasing of new government websites and mobile applications in these recent years, there were still many people who could not access their social welfare.
The Design Challenge
Our design challenge is a collaboration between volunteers, UX design experts, and DGA. Our volunteers came from both government and private sector. Many of them are new to UX design process, so we paired them with UX designers from our community.
We divided our volunteers into 3 teams. Each team focused on different targets: unemployed people, low-income people, and disabled people. The teams had 8 weeks to complete their challenges. Since most volunteers had full-time jobs, their times were very limited (around 2–4 hours per week). Therefore, they had to select only one part of social welfare that matched their target groups to focus on.
- Applying for the Unemployment Benefit for Unemployed people
- Applying for a Welfare Card for low-income people
- Applying for a Disabled Person ID card for Disable people
The teams used design thinking as a framework but focused mainly on the Empathize and Define part. To understand users, they used user interviews and usability tests. Unfortunately, under the COVID-19 situation, all activities were conducted online.
Learning from the Unemployment Team
Thai government has a policy to provides temporary financial aid to people with unemployment. People have to apply for the benefit within 30 days after they were out of their jobs, and they need to report their job status every month in order to continue receiving their financial aids.
After talking with people who have experience with unemployment, the team found that many of them failed to receive their aid because they were unaware of the conditions like the 30 days limitations for registration or that they have to be in the social security for at least 6 consecutive months.
“I don’t know about the 30 days limitation for registration, so I miss the deadline for only 1 day and the whole benefit.”
For the online registration process, people were able to complete the process with some effort. However, they were unaware that they had to come back for a self-report every month. Due to this reason, their benefits would not continue for the second month.
“I have no idea that I have to come back to the website every month for self report”
Improving the website is one of the solutions. However, it is also important to expand their communication channels. The social security department and HR departments can be good places to let people know ahead of time regarding the unemployment benefit’s condition.
People’s concerns go beyond receiving financial aid. After their financial aid ended, many people still cannot find new jobs due to a lack of skill and experience. The government already has a website providng training programs for unemployed people. However, the courses listed there are very limited. One idea is to provide people with coupons to redeem training courses from both private and public sectors in order to have a variety of courses.
Learning from the Low-Income Team
Low-income people in Thailand can apply for Welfare Card to get financial aid and other benefits from Thai government. They can use this card to get special discounts at Thong Fah, a government owned convenience store.
One limitation of the card is that people will receive their financial aid in a fixed amount of budget for each of their spending category. From talking to people, this limitation can be a hassle because they have different needs for help in each of their spending category. For example, some may need to use public transportation more than another, while the others may need to buy more food for their family more than another.
Currently, people can only register for Welfare Card at certain banks or their city halls. For people who live in rural areas, they have to skip works and find way to commute to their city centers. Some of them cannot complete the registration in one time because they miss certain documents. This means that they have to skip more days of works.
“I have to go to a bank many times to apply for this card, and it costs me a lot of time and money.”
It is not entirely their fault that they are not well prepared before going to banks or city centers. Neither the team nor people that they talked with could find an official website for the Welfare Card. This means that people have no reliable source of information. One person actually got tricked into underground lending service while trying to find the information for this card.
“When I tried to find information about the benefit, I ended up with a fake website that tricked me into underground lending service.”
To make things more confusing, people were told different conditions when they visit different banks to apply for the card. Even for the current card holders, the communication seems to be a big issue. At the time of the interview, the team learned that the new version of the card was coming up and every card holder needed to renew their cards. However, none of the card holders that the team talked to knew about this news.
The suggestions from this team focus on creating communication channels that match life style of low-income people.
Learning from the Disability Team
Similar to the Welfare Card, disabled people can apply for Disabled Person ID Card to receive financial aid and supports from Thai government. To be eligible for this card, people with disability must be diagnosed by specialized doctors. Then they have to bring their medical certification along with other required documents to a government disability support center and get approval by their staffs.
After talking with people with disability, the team found that many people fail to get the card. They complained that the qualification for what the government consider as disability was very narrow and subjective to staffs that they met. One person with eye sight problem went to a registration center with his medical certification, but a staff there did not believe that he was disabled. He had to call his doctor to make the staff believed him.
“The approval staff didn’t believe that I am blind, even though I had a medical certification from my doctor.”
Many of these “almost” disabled people were left out from any government supports and they may have to suffer their conditions for years before they actually can reach the government qualification. The team suggests that the government should expand their support to these people. Even if the government would not be able to provide them with financial aids, the government should provide with knowledge and tools to help these people be ready for their disability state.
There is no online registration process for the disabled person ID card, but there are an official information website and a mobile application. However, these touch points are not best optimized for people with poor eyesight. There are issues with color contrast and images without proper text description for blind people. Even for normal people, the team found that it is still hard find the right information on their website. This may be the cause of why people rely on word of mouth rather than using the official website for their source of information.
“There is no trusted source for latest information to reference on. We have to rely on word of mouth.”
Due to limitations, the team could only interview people with eyesight disability. There are many more type of disabilities that they could not cover in this design challenge.
There ideas focus on service design that aims to expand support to the “almost” disabled people and redesign the website and mobile application to make them more accessible.
If you want to learn about about the findings and UX process that each team used, you can download their presentation slide here (in Thai language).
Learning from DGA
After the design challenge had completed, I had a chance to meet with the volunteers from DGA and asked what they have learned from this process.
“It opens me up to new perspective.” —Petch
“I like tools like assumption mapping and ideation workshop. I can already apply them to my own works.” — May
“Talking to real people makes me empathize on what it like to go through the same process with those people.” —Nuch
I also met with their manager and director, they appreciated that this activity had given them user insights that they can share with other government organizations. They already discuss some of the user insights with the disability support department and planned to talk to more departments in the near future. They were also surprised that this research process is completed within 8 weeks, comparing to 6–12 months research projects that they were familiar with.
“When you look at government services, there are problems all over the places, I appreciate how this design challenge help me group problems into product, process, and policy category. This help me identify the right department to talk with in order to tackle each type of problem.” —Asis, DGA VP
If you are someone in Thai government organization who wants to make change for a better user experience but do not know where to start, both Thai Gov Design and DGA are welcome to help you.
Last but not Least
There are a few things that I have to mention before we can finish this article.
- Thai Gov Design is a non-profit community which the aims to help Thai government create a better digital service.
- This design challenge is not a proper “statistical significance” type of research. The comments that you find in here is by no way a representation of all Thai people. However, it is a very a good starting point to show our government different points of view that they can continue to dig down on.
- If you are someone who wants to apply for any of these benefits, please do your own research for the criteria and registration conditions. This is not in anyway an official source for your information. If you find any policy information in here incorrect, please let me know.
- Even though we have government staffs within our volunteers, they are not representations for their government organizations. They are with us to learn about UX techniques and help the society.
- My role in this design challenge is a mentor for all the teams. The findings and ideas are credited to their hard efforts. I only pick certain part from each team presentation to include in this article. Everyone can look forward to see a full article from each team (For the team members — Now, the pressure is on you 😛)
Thank my co-mentor Thippaya Chintakovid in this design challenge
Thank Thapanee Srisawat for awesome illustrations