Policy x Design Blog

Evaluating New Housing Services

After 2+ years of discovery, collaborative design, and pilot testing—including over 250,000 downloads of tools we designed with low-income residents and service providers—we’re very proud to publish findings from our ambitions partnership with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Parsons DESIS Lab to collaboratively design services for New Yorkers seeking affordable housing.

Download our free findings report, Evaluating New Housing Services or read the City’s press release about our work together, where David Quart, HPD’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Commissioner of Strategy, Research, and Communication, says:

The partnership with PPL and DESIS has transformed our ability to identify and respond to New Yorkers’ needs for information about housing opportunities… Working within various communities to design more easily understandable materials and conduct outreach is not simply the smartest and most straightforward way to operate, it also strengthens connections between government and New Yorkers in a meaningful way.

What We Did

Our project team designed four new services. We created the designs collaboratively, with city residents and housing service providers, then HPD pilot-tested the new materials and services. Then, to tell if our designs worked as intended, Public Policy Lab fellows Liana Dragoman and Kaja Kühl developed a preliminary evaluation plan and carried out qualitative and quantitative assessments of impact. We surveyed more than 2,500 housing applicants. We also interviewed and observed dozens of members of the public and service providers as they used our new services.

Our Results

So what did we learn from our four pilots? That New Yorkers are hungry for actionable info about affordable housing. And that the tools and services we designed helped. Testers said they (or the residents they serve) could better understand the application process, make housing decisions, and share knowledge about housing with their friends and family.

What’s next? The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development is taking steps to scale up at least two of the pilot programs. The new guides and housing ads we designed are being translated into Spanish, Mandarin, Creole, and other languages for wider distribution, and talks are underway with community organizations to grow the number of trained and supported housing ambassadors.

Learn More

The complete evaluation report, Evaluating New Housing Services, captures our findings in detail, as well as recommendations for scaling the four services. This free PDF download also includes appendices containing our evaluation, plan, user testing scripts, user surveys, and other research materials.

It’s our hope that this evaluation will inspire and support similar efforts by other design practitioners to carry out and publish assessments of programs to innovate public services.

This project was generously supported by a Rockefeller Foundation New York City Cultural Innovation Fund award.

PPL at Pro Bono Week Panel

On Wednesday, October 22nd, PPL fellow Kristina Drury and director Chelsea Mauldin will be appearing on a panel, hosted by DesigNYC, about social impact design:

The world is finally catching up to what designers have known for a long time: Design is a powerful tool for social change. Whether redesigning a physical space, a process, a campaign, or the government, designers have the opportunity to use their skills to demonstrate that power. But how can designers best get involved in causes and organizations? Pro bono is one answer, but it’s just a small part of the larger design for the social impact movement. Hear from organizations and designers who balance their client work with pro bono offerings and learn how you can get started.

Other panelists include Mark Randall, principal of Worldstudio and David Frisco, principal of DFD: David Frisco Design; the discussion will be moderated by Adrienne Schmoeker of Catchafire, which arranges pro bono engagements between professionals and nonprofits. The panel will be held at WeWork SOHO West, 69 Charlton Street, 8th floor lounge. Admission is free, but you must register here.

EPIC 2014 Features PPL Fellows

EPIC, the international applied anthropology conference, is taking place in New York City from September 7 to 10, 2014.  The event promotes the use of ethnographic investigations and principles in the study of human behavior as they are applied in business settings — so it’s a fascinating gathering of people working in technology, consumer products, and a range of service industries.

This year, we’re proud to say that two of our Public Policy Lab fellows, Jacqueline Wallace and Natalia Radywyl (shown hard at work above!), will be presenting papers. Natalia’s paper is titled Service Designing Cities: Ethnography for Urban Resilience, while Jacquie will present Community Centered Design: Evolving the Mission of the Creative Industry.

Both fellows are speaking in the afternoon session on September 8th, so conference attendees are encouraged to catch their presentations. Or follow Jacquie and Natalia and EPIC on Twitter, where the event hashtag is #EPIC2014.

Public Innovation Practices Forum

On Wednesday, May 21, 2014, please join us for a day-long forum on government innovation, (New) Public Goods, hosted by Parsons DESIS Lab at The New School. This event is free and open to the public; register here.

Participants represent a international range of public innovation practices and include PPL’s Bryan Boyer and Chelsea Mauldin, MindLab‘s Christian Bason, New Urban Mechanics‘ Nigel Jacob, InWithForward‘s Sarah Schulman, and Joeri van den Steenhoven from MaRS Solutions Lab.

This event will also include results from our Rockefeller-supported partnership with Parsons and NYC HPD, Public & Collaborative: Designing Services for Housing.

NEA Webinar on Design for Government

The National Endowment for the Arts‘ Spring 2014 series of online talks focuses on international design initiatives. The Public Policy Lab’s Chelsea Mauldin participated in the second session, moderated by Camilla Buchanan from the Design Council UK, on innovation in government practice and policy.

As Buchanan explained in her blog post on the genesis of the session, her goal was to:

share insights on how design is being used to create public services around the people who use them, to introduce new methods into the civil service skill set, and as a tool to aid the process of public policy development.

She and Beatrice Andrews from the U.K. Cabinet Office’s Open Policy Making team also presented recent initiatives from their respective organizations. Some wonderful insights from top public-sector innovators in Britain!

Call for Multimedia Journalist

The Public Policy Lab has a fellowship opportunity for a versatile multimedia journalist who can capture visual and audio content and create stories for multiple platforms. This role allows you to work closely with the public and the project team of designers, social scientists, and public servants. Gain the satisfaction of doing good and meaningful work by using your skills to help design public services!

  • Fellowship includes a $2,000 stipend
  • Approximately 2 days per week for a 4-week period, beginning in May 2014
  • Based in Dumbo, Brooklyn

The deadline to apply is April 8, 2014. For application instructions, download the complete fellowship description or see more details below. (more…)

Impact! Social Good Webinar

Impact! Webinar

Design Ignites Change and the School of Visual Arts’ Impact! program kindly invited the Public Policy Lab to their ongoing webinar series on design for social good.

Watch video of PPL executive director Chelsea Mauldin in conversation with Mark Randall, chair of Impact! and principal of Worldstudio, about using design methods to improve government services and empower the public.

This webinar also marked the announcement of the first annual Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award, dedicated to the memory of Public Policy Lab co-founder Sylvia Harris. The $10,000 prize will support a designer’s work to address a pressing social need within the designer’s community. Learn more here.

Evaluating Design Impact

Public Policy Lab fellows Liana Dragoman and Kaja Kühl are evaluating how our work helps New Yorkers applying for affordable housing.

As part of Public  & Collaborative: Designing Services for Housing—our collaboration with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Parsons DESIS Lab—our team developed four pilot proposals to enhance the application process for affordable housing. HPD accepted all four proposals and implementation of the pilots is underway.

Our fellows are supporting the pilot roll-out and also collaborating with the agency to evaluate the implementation process and eventual pilot outcomes. You can now download their Preliminary Evaluation Plan [pdf]. This plan will be followed by two more evaluation reports. The second report will assess pilot implementation, while the third will focus on project impacts. Watch for those later in 2014!

You can read all about the proposals in our how-to guide, but in brief, we recommended that HPD and its sister agency, the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC), test the following approaches:

  1. Create new, human-centered informational materials
    Implement, distribute, and sustain a series of new or redesigned informational materials to be used throughout the application process — from marketing to interview and lease-up.
  2. Encourage hyper-local marketing by developers
    Supplement existing outreach by asking developers to share redesigned advertisements in public venues frequented by neighborhood residents.
  3. Support community-based housing ambassadors
    Recognize the work of community-based groups and individuals who assist residents in applying for affordable housing by providing them with reliable information and resources.
  4. Form a street team for in-person HPD outreach
    To address the lack of visibility and awareness of HPD and its affordable housing programs, employ a street team in strategic locations and at specific events in order to highlight HPD’s work, publicize resources, and broaden the pool of applicants.

Combined, the goal of these pilots is to create a new knowledge-sharing infrastructure that enables a dynamic and reciprocal exchange of information between New York City residents, community-based partners, housing developers, and HPD leadership and front-line staff. The intended design objectives of the knowledge-sharing infrastructure are to:

  • Encourage information accessibility and exchange.
  • Account for applicants’ lived reality.
  • Enable more informed decision-making.

Through formative evaluation, it is hoped that HPD and the project team can determine the extent to which each pilot plan embodied the design objectives. In addition, evaluation will help HPD understand what aspects of the implementation process might need to be altered if the pilots are to be scaled citywide. To learn more about our evaluation activities, download the Preliminary Evaluation Plan [pdf].

Our Year in Review

Welcome to the Public Policy Lab’s annual report for 2013—we had an excellent year.

Starting in the spring, our affordable-housing fellows co-designed and tested five new user-friendly communications to help clarify the application process for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who apply annually for subsidized housing. In the fall, we and our partners released our “comprehensive yet delightful” how-to guide, Designing Services for Housing, to share our process. Now the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development is pilot-testing community-based engagement strategies designed by our team—check out our first pilot evaluation report, just released.

Over the summer, we partnered with the NYC Department of Education to understand how 75,000 New York families navigate the high-school choice process each year. Our admissions fellows spoke with policymakers, school staff, parents, and 8th and 9th graders. We identified four needs that everyone in the process shares—read about them in our discovery storybook. Soon, we’ll release a short film about how our work set the stage for an app-development challenge sponsored by the DOE’s Office of Innovation. (more…)

The School Choice Experience

Four Needs All Key Players Share

Each year more than 75,000 students navigate the admissions process to apply for seats at New York City’s 700+ public high school programs.

The Public Policy Lab formed a partnership with the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and the Office of Student Enrollment to explore opportunities for improving the admissions experience. (more…)