Human-Centered Technology: Developing Useful & User-Friendly Solutions to Increase Access to Public Benefits


In the conceptualization and design of products and services, ensuring useful and user-friendly experiences is critical. In this article, we’ll take a look at what human-centered technology is, why it is important, and some tangible examples. 

What is human-centered technology?

The impetus for product design is often rooted in business objectives, available technology, and assumed user needs. Human-centered technology flips this approach, putting the user at the forefront of the design process. By placing people at the center of product development, the resulting design is tailored to the end user’s needs, rather than forcing them to adapt to technology. 

In a human-centered technology design process, developers engage with users, seeking to understand their problems, needs, and desires. Solutions are developed, tested, and refined according to this iterative user feedback loop. 

Why is human-centered technology important, and especially important for government?

Building with a strong user focus allows for the development of solutions that verifiably improve people’s lives by specifically addressing their needs. Products that are useful and intuitive are more easily adopted, and in turn drive engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty.

Human-centered design is increasingly driving innovation in the government space. Thoughtfully planning solutions and prioritizing the experience is leading to products and processes that make it easier for people to complete tasks. 

In 2015, for example, California revamped and simplified its online enrollment for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. With nonprofit partner Code for America (CfA), the state trimmed a process that once took 45 minutes down to just 10 minutes. 

Other tech-enabled solutions have helped agencies communicate with their recipients in ways that are more accessible. For example, mRelief, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, offers people screening and enrollment for SNAP. They found through feedback from their recipients that the best way to gather that required screening information was via a simple text message with a linked survey, rather than a web-based application.

Increased access to the safety net: Human-centered technology & SteadyIQ

SteadyIQ built its proprietary Income Passport technology with a human-centric approach. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that gig workers faced significant barriers in accessing safety net benefits, which resulted in major delays in benefit receipt. Along with The Workers Lab, SteadyIQ developed an income verification solution with gig workers in mind. Their process included thoughtful meetings with gig workers to understand their challenges, followed by a careful, collaborative testing of the solution. Specifically, The Workers Lab helped bring workers from the Philadelphia Drivers Union and Gig Workers Rising, as well as gig worker advocates and experts, like Donald Lowman, Jr. to use, test, and inform the development of the technology. In his testimony to Congress, Adrian Haro, The Workers Lab CEO, details how each form of worker feedback translated into product improvements (see table below).

What Workers Told Us How Worker Input Improved the Income Passport

Gig income shows up in many forms. Workers can choose to be paid by the gig platforms many different ways – for example, through scheduled weekly transfers or user-initiated “instant” transfers – with different implications for how to account for earnings in unemployment applications. In some instances, bank data doesn’t even name the gig platform that issued the deposit. Plus, not all workers have bank accounts or are willing to share their bank’s information.

To get the full picture of a worker’s gig income, our solution connects both to a worker’s financial institutions and their gig platform accounts. Comparing these two sources whenever possible allows our solution to have the fullest, most accurate understanding of a worker’s earnings.

Platforms limit what data workers can see. Workers told us that they have never been able to track their income and expenses easily because gig platforms make it hard to see past work and earnings. This feeling of frustration and disempowerment means that workers had a harder time assessing their weekly earnings and presenting it to the government for benefits.

The solution provides workers with unprecedented access to their past income from multiple sources as well as their expenses in a format that is intuitive for them to understand.
Trust is fundamental. Workers have to trust that the solution is representing their work correctly, especially when gig companies don’t always give them access to the full picture of their own data. When they have the opportunity to understand and clean their data, they can generate more accurate reports they can rely on. Ensuring this trust is fundamental to our solution, as we know workers are eager for reliable ways to improve the unemployment benefits application process. Steady learned through a survey of 256 workers associated with Gig Workers Rising in California that 9 out of 10 of those workers would be willing to share data from their gig or work app accounts if it would lead to faster and more accurate benefits. Workers are able to manually validate and annotate their data, adding notes to explain what may not be clear from the raw platform data. Rather than relying solely on third-party information, this extra step puts workers in control of how they account for their gig work and provides additional content for reviewers at state labor departments.
Accounting for expenses is complex. Workers have to distinguish between gross and net earnings for unemployment applications, meaning they need to subtract expenses such as car payments, gas, and insurance. Because many gig workers work for multiple platforms at once, figuring out exactly how much they earned after expenses for each platform can be tricky – and have a big impact on the benefits they receive. Workers also told us that what qualifies as an “expense” depends on the individual gig platform and whether they have vehicle lease or insurance agreements with it, so having the worker’s direct input here is crucial. Our solution makes accounting for expenses simple and straightforward. We included a series of prompts that workers complete to identify expenses from their financial accounts and out-of-pocket spending, and we account for these expenses in the overall earnings in workers’ custom income report.
Applying for benefits for the first time is intimidating. Unemployment benefits are complicated and figuring out how to apply can be intimidating. This is especially true for first-time applicants like gig workers, who became eligible for the first time ever during the pandemic. Challenges are even greater for workers who have less experience using technology or who don’t speak English as their primary language. When potentially life-saving benefits are at stake, workers need a process that is as accessible as possible. We made the solution’s language and design simple and easy to understand for all users. The simple design also makes it easier to translate the solution into other languages to reach any state’s population. Every aspect of the solution, including the instructions and step-by-step “how to” tutorials, were designed with this in mind and tested through multiple iterations of worker feedback.
Not everyone has a personal computer. Workers have a range of familiarity with and access to digital tools. While not everyone has access to a personal computer, most tend to have at least some comfort with smartphones. Our solution is designed to be accessible however a worker might use it, whether via a computer or a mobile device.

The resulting solution is easy to use and provides gig workers with unprecedented access to their past income from multiple sources, including their gig accounts. Click here to read more about SteadyIQ’s partnership with The Workers Lab

To discuss how SteadyIQ’s human-centered Income Passport can benefit the needs in your company or state, contact us today.

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