Just Harvest mobilizes people to eliminate hunger in Pittsburgh. Namely, they screen residents of Allegheny County for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; food stamp) benefits and guide them through a complicated application form. However, they still struggle with exposure in the community, and stigmas around food stamps dissuade potential clients from applying.
Over 175,000 individuals in Allegheny County are facing food insecurity, an issue that costs $3.25 billion/year in Pennsylvania alone.
Just Harvest's services such as food stamp assistance, free tax returns, and efforts towards eliminating food deserts, have the potential to leave a lasting positive impact on the community.
4 interviews taught us that clients' biggest pain points emerge from government interactions, making them difficult problems for us to tackle. Just Harvest's processes are streamlined, but they struggle to reach client thresholds to receive government grants and ultimately expand their footprint. Their greatest area of need is seniors— over 40% of whom qualify, but aren't signing up for SNAP.
It takes a lot of courage for clients to make an initial phone call to Just Harvest, so they prefer to collect phone numbers through outreach initiatives and call interested parties instead. How might we encourage clients to initiate that initial call?
SNAP applicants must gather a plethora of documents, create copies of them, and send them back to Just Harvest via mail in order to apply. This is the greatest bottleneck in clients' application timeline, and often leads to dropping out of the process entirely.
SNAP is associated with many harmful stigmas that discourage potential applicants from applying. Individuals are much more likely to reach out to Just Harvest if a community member vouches for their experience with the nonprofit.
With the knowledge gleaned from our background research phase, we constructed several models that helped us identify areas of opportunity to improve Just Harvest’s current state. A competitive analysis of similar organizations showcased what works— and what doesn't— in the Pittsburgh community.
A flow diagram helped us understand the key players involved in the SNAP application process, while a stakeholder map showcased all of the entities that operate in the food insecurity problem space.
We molded the findings from our generative research phase into a service blueprint, detailing the actions and processes involved in the application journey. This highlighted that, for the most part, Just Harvest's services are efficient and work well— applicants face the greatest number of problems post-submission in government interactions.
After identifying areas of opportunity in our service blueprint, we honed in on 5 focus areas with 10 ideas—
After running our ideas by 2 Food Stamp Specialists, we learned that the existing application process is actually efficient for Just Harvest.
We iterated on our problem statement to better clarify our direction moving forward. We shifted focus from improving the client experience to improving Just Harvest’s outreach initiatives for raising money, securing clients, and creating a network of volunteers.
Our second round of storyboards focused on innovative solutions, such as partnerships, incentives, & leveraging data to expand outreach.
Through our idea of outreach via social media, the idea of a community cookbook was born. The cookbook destigmatizes SNAP, expands Just Harvest’s applicant pool & volunteer network, and increases donations by creating not only an artifact, but a community-wide initiative.
The cookbook is sent in a seasonal newsletter to Just Harvest supporters. Physical copies may be purchased in libraries & grocery stores as a donation. New clients receive a free copy of the cookbook, incentivizing more individuals to sign up for SNAP.
Action: Create a cookbook that is equal parts community & client recipe contributions.
Rationale: Intertwining community & Just Harvest recipes places an equal level of importance on both parties' contributions to the cookbook, making it a team effort. This decision also showcases how similar yet different we are, as we all enjoy various renditions of the same foods.
Action: Veer away from SNAP-related stereotypes by showcasing everyday recipes that everyone can enjoy.
Rationale: This humanizes clients, placing them on an equal playing field as community members reading the cookbook. It broadens the cookbook's appeal to more people who may not be on a budget. Community members noted that, "I don't care where a recipe came from, as long as it's good."
Action: Highlight client success stories to shed light on their experiences with Just Harvest.
Rationale: Speak to all that Just Harvest has to offer in a more covert manner than overtly advertising their services. Reading firsthand recommendations establishes trust. Users remarked that "This feels like a magazine rather than an advertisement."
The community cookbook benefits more than Just Harvest— it impacts the community members, volunteers, & clients involved in the project. Clients get the chance to share their stories through vignettes. New clients receive a free cookbook. Libraries and grocery stores benefit by selling the cookbook, taking a small share of the profit.
Just Harvest's financial constraints limited the scope of solutions that we could pursue. Furthermore, the sensitive subject of food insecurity made it difficult to connect with Just Harvest's current clients and really deeply understand the problem space. These challenges forced us to adapt and deeply consider every design decision that we made.
We went into our research phase expecting that Just Harvest's processes would need restructuring. We were surprised to hear that despite the nonprofit's lack of technology, everything was streamlined— their employees had no complaints. Thus, we pivoted to focus on a more meaningful problem space: recruitment.
Given our master's program's technological focus, it was a unique experience to design for a problem space that urged us away from technology. We learned that sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, and slapping an interface on a solution doesn't necessarily make it better.