Designing for Financial Empowerment (DFE) is a cross-sector collaboration between the City of New York, Citi Community Development and the Parsons DESIS Lab to explore how service design can be used to make public sector financial empowerment services more effective and accessible. This landmark initiative challenges the cycle of poverty by holistically examining current public policy and services; understanding the interrelated needs of New York City's most vulnerable populations; and enabling community members to participate in the co-design of the very services that they use, alongside policymakers, advocates and service providers.
In the first project of Designing for Financial Empowerment, we worked with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs / Office of Financial Empowerment and consulted with Food Bank For New York City to uncover factors that may explain why many qualified New Yorkers have not taken advantage of New York City's free tax preparation services, enabling the city to improve access to this vital assistance.
In the second project, we partnered with the New York City Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs to connect citizenship programming with financial empowerment services to ensure that individuals who are ready to obtain citizenship status are also connected to resources that help them achieve greater financial stability.
Now, in the third project, we are working with the Office of Financial Empowerment to create a renewed vision for the Financial Empowerment Centers and dramatically improve the financial stability of clients, both in New York City and nationally.
Designing for Financial Empowerment has already resulted in the creation of new policy and public services. NYC Free Tax Prep at Work is a new initiative based on partnerships with eight employers to make tax preparation more convenient for their employees by providing it at work. This initiative was a key recommendation from the initial project with the Office of Financial Empowerment.
In 2012, the Parsons DESIS Lab developed a program of activities to explore how public services in New York City can be improved by incorporating greater citizen collaboration in service design and implementation. To maximize the real-world value of the program, we started to collaborate with New York City agencies, to explore the potential for citizen-centered and citizen-led service initiatives. A citizen-centered approach intensively involves citizen end-users in research, prototyping, testing, and implementation of services to be administered by public agencies. The second strategy, citizen-led services, engages agencies, community-based organizations and citizens in a co-production process, where citizens design and implement their own service programs, enabled and supported by public agencies.
In 2014, with the support of Citi Community Development, the Mayor's Fund, the Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment, Center for Economic Opportunity and Parsons' Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab launched Designing for Financial Empowerment, a cross-sector initiative to explore how service design can be used to integrate financial empowerment services into existing human services. This landmark program envisions New York City and other large urban areas challenging the cycle of poverty by holistically examining current public policy and service offerings; identifying the interrelated needs of the most vulnerable populations; and enabling community members to participate in the co-design and prototyping of the very services that they use.
In the first project of the Designing for Financial Empowerment initiative, we worked with the Office of Financial Empowerment and consulted with Food Bank For New York City to uncover factors that may explain why many qualified New Yorkers have not taken advantage of New York City's free tax preparation services, enabling the city to improve access to this vital assistance. Through this project, the Designing for Financial Empowerment team spoke directly with clients, former paid tax preparers, and other key stakeholders, uncovering valuable information about New Yorkers' perceptions of free tax preparation services and identifying opportunities to enhance the client experience. After a rigorous and iterative process of co-design, the team identified the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Portal, an easy-to-use digital kiosk, as the most promising enhancement. The project yielded several viable service concepts, two of which are being implemented in 2016: branding all sites participating in NYC's Annual Tax Season Initiative as NYC FREE TAX PREP sites and employer-based VITA sites.
In the second project, we partnered with the New York City Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs to connect citizenship programming with financial empowerment services to ensure that individuals who are ready to obtain citizenship status are also connected to resources that help them achieve greater financial stability. In March 2016, the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs will re-launch its NYCitizenship program in partnership with the city's public library systems that serve the five boroughs: Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Library and New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. The new program will implement a set of tools to create this integrated service approach to better serve immigrant New Yorkers and contribute to the City's efforts to help immigrant families rise out of poverty and stabilize communities.
In the third project started in 2016, we are working with the Office of Financial Empowerment to create a renewed vision for the Financial Empowerment Centers and dramatically improve the financial stability of clients, both in New York City and nationally. Since 2008, Financial Empowerment Centers were created in New York City to offer free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling services to help people in crisis to stabilize their finances and plan for their future.
At Designing for Financial Empowerment, service design has been used to improve policies and services, which can improve the financial capabilities of low-income individuals and families. As a collaborative and participatory practice, service design methods and tools have been used throughout the initiative to engage government offices at all levels to collaborate with citizens, experts, and community-based organizations in order to create and deliver better public services. All three Designing for Financial Empowerment projects have been structured in three iterative and overlapping phases: Discovery, Co-Design, and Prototyping. The Discovery phase is structured as an inquiry-based learning process to acquire first-hand experience of the challenges, opportunities and capabilities experienced by the various stakeholders involved in the service delivery process; the Co-design phase brings together all service stakeholders to explore opportunities for new or improved services; and the prototyping phase includes iterative development, testing and refinement of the new or improved service.
The service design process is a vital tool for expanding the boundaries of public sector stakeholder engagement in solving community challenges. Deliberately designing services in this way has helped to ensure that the experience and value of public services meet the needs of citizens, government, and community partners.
We thought that the problem DFE is solving was very clear, helping people who don't have the education or knowledge around financial terms and services understand these better in terms of their own financial independence.
Giving people a way to educate, and thus empower, themselves is a clear way for people to better manage their money.