What it means
It shouldn’t be so hard to ask for help. Clients should be able to understand what sort of assistance is available to them based on their situation, and what’s required of them throughout the process.
Clients should have access to information that helps them understand their case status and what the next steps are at any moment. And, if they don’t understand something, there should be helpful and available resources to support them through the process.
Why it matters
- Case Workers
- State Leaders
“I got stuck completing my state’s online application because I couldn’t figure out what verification documents were required, and it wasn’t clear where I could go for help. In order to complete this process I need information that is clear, easy to find, and easy to understand.”
Case workers say:
“My job would be so much easier if everyone understood the process. Our state’s forms are hard for clients to understand, which means I get inaccurate or missing information and way more calls to my office than are necessary.”
State leaders say:
“I want more confidence in the accuracy and effectiveness of our services. If everyone understands the process, we can ensure that all clients that are eligible for benefits receive them, and are not denied for procedural reasons.”
How to do it
1. Conduct a plain language assessment of your applications and website.
Copy should be written in simple, clear, and plain language in short, concise paragraphs.
- All content should be at a fifth grade reading level, which is readable and comprehensible for the greatest number of people.
- Instructions, messages, and alerts should be written in a warm and affirming voice. When explaining consequences or important procedures, be neutral in tone (even when conveying urgency) instead of dire and threatening.
- Explain acronyms. Don’t assume everyone understands service acronyms and other nuances of government programs.
2. Simplify the application, renewal, and reporting workflow.
Directions across applications should be clear, simple, and easy to follow.
- In application, renewal, and change report forms, clients should only be shown questions that are relevant to them.
- Group similar questions together to make the form flow more smoothly.
- Embed a process bar in the online application. This should explain what will happen next and how long the process will take.
- Visual components, like photos or icons, can help support and clarify written content.
- Clearly state which documents are required for each step in the process.
3. Provide supportive information that helps clients through the process.
Offer additional information and explanation if necessary, while minimizing nonessential information or visual clutter that can be overwhelming.
- Offer links, resources for similar services, explanations, or help on your homepage or a similarly accessible location.
- Provide language support for people who may wish to access services in other languages.
- Assume a client’s situation fluctuates frequently. Provide clear instructions on what the client needs to report, when, and how.
4. Review notices for clarity and readability.
Make sure the notices you’re sending to clients are clear and easy to understand.
- Notices should have a clear call to action that prominently features the required client action, the process to complete it, and the deadline. Feature the call to action at the top of the page, or use font size or color to differentiate it from the rest of the text. The notice should also clearly include instructions on how to complete the required action, as well as the deadline.
- Text-heavy notices are overwhelming for clients. Only include essential information on notices. Additional resources, such as legal language and educational brochures, should be included separately.
- Ensure that notices arrive at least seven days before client action must be taken, so that clients have enough time to complete the action and send documentation back to the office.
- If the notice is sent via mail, make sure language and design on the envelope balances a sense of urgency and trustworthiness to ensure that notices are opened.
What we measure
Fewer Caseworker Touchpoints
80% of clients should be able to complete the required action without additional caseworker support.
Fewer Procedural Denials
Procedural denials should not prevent clients from getting critical services in times of need, and should not impact more than 20% of clients.
More Successful Applications
A higher volume of completed and submitted applications from eligible clients.
Louisiana: Text Messaging to Reduce Churn
Our one-way text message pilot provided timely, specific reminders to help clients successfully navigate benefits renewal moments by making the process easy to understand. Clients who opted in to text message reminders achieved dramatic results, including a nearly 80% increase in kept WIC appointments and a 67% increase in successful annual renewals for Medicaid clients.
Colorado: Change Reporting PDF Redesign
In our Colorado Integrated Benefits Initiative pilot, we built a tool for clients to report common life changes that may impact eligibility to their cases, but we also looked at the caseworker experience and worked to help them process changes more efficiently. The existing PDF was a major source of frustration, and caseworkers reported that our prototype was much easier to understand.
GetCalFresh: Simplifying Questions About Income
Our GetCalFresh research showed that clients were confused about how to report income accurately on SNAP applications, so we worked to reduce frustration for both clients and caseworkers in the process. We learned that simplicity should not be confused with brevity— sometimes splitting a complex question into smaller components makes it easier to understand.