At any given time, nearly 1 in 7 of our neighbors in Allegheny County are facing chronic hunger and food insecurity. Just Harvest is an NGO that strives to reduce hunger by helping those in need to apply for SNAP benefits (food stamps) and lobbying for better public policies.
Through research, we found that major reasons why people are not applying for SNAP are the complexity of the application process and social stigma. Just Harvest already has established a great process in helping clients navigate the application process. So we wanted to help them reach more potential clients and battle social stigma for SNAP benefits.
Feb. - Apr. 2019
Entering the Just Harvest Community Cookbook, the cookbook written by and for the members of the Pittsburgh community.
The cookbook features recipes we collect from community members through a social media campaign. Recipes collected from SNAP users and non-SNAP users would be published in the book together, and editors would make sure that all recipes are SNAP friendly.
Each recipe would include a short paragraph about the dish or the contributor. For the SNAP user recipes the paragraph would be about the contributor’s SNAP experience, to shed some light on the SNAP lifestyle and help destigmatize SNAP.
To help Just Harvest publish this Cookbook we will provide them with easy to use templates and guidelines. This would ensure the quality of the end product and give this simple concept a polished look.
The production of this Cookbook also helps Just Harvest to attract more volunteers and build a stronger community. Through publishing this cookbook, Just Harvest can mobilize the creative power of local photographers, writers, and foodies to help to create the book and collaborate with local print shops and bookstore to help with production and distribution.
The community cookbook is not just a little brochure that Just Harvest can handout at events, it is a project that can help Just Harvest reach a wider audience, collect data and build community.
Through secondary research and competitor analysis, we wanted to understand the process of applying for SNAP in Pennsylvania. What are the steps applicants go through? How long does it take to apply? What are the major roadblocks applicants encounter?
We conducted interviews with the staff at Just Harvest to understand their work process and to identify opportunities for improvement. We also conducted interviews with other organizations that we identified to be helping to fight hunger in Pittsburgh, such as food pantries, libraries, and farmers markets.
From the information we gathered we drew models to help us visualize the current application process.
From our research and these models, we came up with the following insights and using the “How might we…” question we translated these insights into design opportunities.
Calling Just Harvest requires vulnerability.
It is difficult to find all the documents needed.
Word-of-mouth is an important factor for securing clients.
How might we incentivize people in need to contact Just Harvest?
How might we help applicants handle documents?
How might we tell Just Harvest's success stories to more people?
At this point, we believe our goal was to help Just Harvest to streamline the application process for their applicants. So we brainstormed a wide range of concepts that would and went to Just Harvest to get some quick feedback on our initial concepts.
To our surprise almost all our ideas were shot down. We were trying to use technology and algorithms to help screen applicants or predict how much benefits applicants are qualified for. What we did not realize was that the reason why Just Harvest exists and calls their clients to do their applications is the application criteria is hard for normal applicants to digest and is constantly changing.
It is almost impossible to make the application screening process into an online quiz that would give users an accurate estimate of their benefits. Just Harvest has been working on improving the application process for 25 years and their solution is their extremely experienced staff, who can turn a 28-page application form into a simple 5-minute phone call. If the application process on the government’s side can’t be improved, the Just Harvest staff are irreplaceable.
So we pivot! Through our interviews we learned instead of improving the application process, Just Harvest would also be interested in reaching a wider audience. They’ve been partnering with children’s hospital, training health care providers to ask their patients some simple screening questions after each session, and if the patient seems to be eligible and is interested in applying for SNAP benefits the hospital would pass their contact information to Just Harvest.
This idea of bundling Just Harvest’s service with other services or products potential clients would be interested in was very inspiring for us. However, the staff at Just Harvest also told us relying on the effort of other organization to recruit new clients is not sustainable. It might be effective at the beginning, but later on, the partnering organization’s staff would forget and Just Harvest will have to remind or train them again.
We wanted to come up with a solution that can help Just Harvest reach their potential clients more efficiently and build a stronger community.
Entering the Just Harvest Community Cookbook, the cookbook written by and for the Pittsburgh community. The cookbook features SNAP friendly recipes collected from both SNAP users and home cooking enthusiasts in the community.
By mixing these recipes together and sharing stories about eating healthy on SNAP we hope to normalize SNAP benefits and inspire readers to improve their lifestyle starting from eating better.
We would launch this campaign with a call for recipes. Through social media, physical posters and word of mouth, we would ask people to submit their favorite recipes through email.
With the pre-made templates we provide, Just Harvest staff and volunteers would be able to make well-designed cookbooks spreads easily and have a booklet ready for production in no time.
For printing, we suggest Just Harvest collaborate with local print stores or FeDex to help them print and bind the cookbooks professionally.
The physical cookbook would be sent to all applicants who apply for SNAP through Just Harvest, sent to all volunteers who contributed to the project, available at local libraries for people to read, and sold at local bookstores to raise funds for Just Harvest.
The collected recipes would also be available through an email newsletter, which we can use Google analytics to track engagement. With this data, not only Just Harvest would know what recipes are more popular, but also who are the more individuals in the community.
When we presented our solution to our clients we received a positive response. They appreciated that we took their reality into consideration and came up with a low tech solution that does not require a lot of expertise and money to implement.
They also felt that our solution was very on brand for them because Just Harvest is not simply an organization that helps people apply for food stamps. They educate, empower and mobilize people to eliminate hunger, poverty, and economic injustice. So besides helping to file more applications, destigmatizing SNAP and building a larger volunteer community is also an important item on their agenda. They appreciated that we didn’t focus on creating “budget-conscious recipes” but was trying to create a luxury feel and normalizing the SNAP lifestyle.
Through this project, I realized the importance of being considerate of technological constraints when working with nonprofits. When we first tested our solutions with Just Harvest one of the questions they asked the most was: how would this be implemented? Taking the number of staff and budget Just Harvest has into consideration, we decided that the most sustainable solution for them would be a low tech solution.
It might seem strange not to develop an APP for an HCI class project, but we believed it was the right thing to do and our clients agreed.
I also learned to acknowledge what is already working. During our initial research, we realized that there are a lot of complaints about how frustrating the application process is, so we thought our initial goal was to streamline the application process. Instead of lingering on our old ideas, we quickly decided to pivot and started to work on what is more valuable for our client, which is to grow their influence and community.