A child’s nutrition affects their emotional, physical, and financial health well into adulthood. However, many American parents can’t afford to feed their children a proper diet. WIC is a decades-old federal program that grants food benefits, health care referrals, and dietary education to low-income parents, infants, and at-risk children in the U.S. Despite the overall success of the program in the nation, uptake in Dallas was only at 40%.
The Childhood Poverty Action Lab (CPAL) partnered with IDEO.org to understand the barriers getting in the way of uptake. Their initial hunch was that enrollment was low due to lack of awareness. But most people knew about WIC; in fact, awareness spread through word of mouth, and they were positioned to shape what was being said. So if people were aware, why weren’t they enrolling?
As the team began to talk to people who had used the program and were eligible but not enrolled, it became evident that the process was riddled with obstacles that made access difficult, time-consuming, and at times, humiliating. Eligible residents experience the program at two main sites: the clinic and the grocery store. Together with stakeholders at the Dallas and Texas WIC offices, our team began to prototype different ways to make visits to the store and clinic more clarifying and alleviating. If people were hearing about WIC through word of mouth, how could we improve what people are saying?
Grocery stores are a particularly taxing experience for most parents. There is a lot of ambiguity about what grocery items are and aren’t approved by WIC. Mothers would often go to check out only to realize that they’d picked up a non-eligible item or that they’d be charged an amount they couldn’t afford—all while people in line behind them grew impatient.
We prototyped different versions of what grocery store experience could be like, from an ambassador who could guide users through the store and answer questions to brochures that detailed exactly what people could get at that store considering the age of their child. We also tried adding additional signage that would sit near commonly confused items such as milk and eggs to help clarify what was covered. Since our engagement, the City of Dallas was able to use the WIC playbook we created to unlock national grant funding to begin prototyping and implementing additional concepts.
During our interviews and workshops, many parents talked about how much of an odyssey it was to visit a clinic. They had to take time off and travel long distances, only to get generic, non-culturally centered advice from a nutritionist. One mom who had just given birth had to take three different buses to a clinic location just to prove she had a baby.
Our goal was to reorient the clinic experience from a sterile hospital space to a lively, warm gathering place that celebrates health and nutrition. We mapped out different touch points in the clinic experience and designed expressive signage and a navigation system for the WIC clinics. The local WIC agency has also made significant progress on bringing services within two miles of every eligible woman and child, with three pop-up clinics already launched.
Our partners at CPAL and Local Agency 7 have been listening to the individuals the program is serving in deeper and more authentic ways, and centering their experience in programmatic goals while also embracing the mindsets of iteration and prototyping with optimism and ease.