Shelter from Harm

Designing Services to Mitigate Trauma

How might we design public services that mitigate the impact of trauma?

Partners and Funders

With support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Public Policy Lab is launching a new program, Shelter from Harm: Designing Public Services that Mitigate Trauma. New York City public agencies are cordially invited to express their interest in serving as our design and implementation partner.

About the Project

Public programs frequently serve people experiencing traumatic situations, such as homelessness or untreated mental illness, or those dealing with trauma from past incarceration, abuse, or neglect. However, the challenges of accessing and using public services can sometimes trigger or worsen trauma symptoms.

Shelter from Harm will explore how better policy and service design – of program rules, public communications, service interactions, digital tools, and/or physical spaces – can reduce effects of trauma, particularly in the context of housing insecurity and/or youth and their families.

The Outcome

Our outcomes will be scaleable service and policy solutions, field-tested and evaluated to demonstrate trauma mitigation in vulnerable service users.



How to Get Involved

We’re seeking government and philanthropic partners to participate in our design and implementation process.

1. Join as a project partner. We invite government agencies to propose projects related to trauma mitigation in youth and/or insecurely housed populations. We ask that interested agencies commit to: matching or exceeding our $40,000 in funding from NEA; dedicating staff time to substantive collaboration with our design team; and demonstrating leadership buy-in for implementation.

2. Support us by funding the project. We invite donors to amplify the impact of this work by contributing to implementation and evaluation costs, as well as to staff time and documentation expenses. Proposed contribution levels are $20,000, $40,000, and $80,000.

Complete the short RFEI survey below to express your interest and we will contact you to schedule a follow-up conversation.



Project Process

Since our founding in 2011, the Public Policy Lab has developed and refined a four-step process for designing innovative human-centered public services. Shelter from Harm: Designing Public Services that Mitigate Trauma will follow this tested approach.

First, we’ll identify partners, New York City government agencies whose policies or programs align with reducing trauma in youth and/or insecurely housed populations. With our partner(s), we’ll select specific services to target and the right stakeholders to participate.

Next we’ll carry out ethnographic research with affected members of the public (service users and their families), front-line service providers, and agency leaders and staff. Together, we’ll identify shared needs and specific opportunities to alter services or policies to reduce the impact of past or current trauma.

Then we’ll co-design new trauma-mitigating tools or services, working collaboratively with intended users and providers of those services. This rapid, iterative design process will result in testable prototypes.

Finally, we’ll run small-scale field tests of the prototype programs and tools. We’ll measure reductions in trauma symptoms and identify how to best up-scale successful interventions. We’ll document all our work so our successes can be shared and replicated nationally.