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over 3 years ago

Q&A: User testing and research

We’ve fielded some questions this week about the existing background research and user testing for the National School Lunch Program electronic application. Instead of answering these questions individually, we thought we’d address them all at once in the Q&A below.

Have user interviews and user testing already been completed for the school meals program electronic application form?

No, user research and testing has not yet been completed for the electronic school meal application form. Prototyping an electronic application form is a brand new initiative that we believe could help increase accurate form completion. The first step is to create some initial designs/application prototypes and gather feedback that will further inform the development process.

But what was done in the past? How do you know how the form should be built?

Millions of households apply for free or reduced-price meal benefits each year by submitting paper applications to their schools. However, the form requires applicants to manually report and calculate various responses regarding income earned and the number of household members present, and once received, the applications are manually processed by school or district staff members. Therefore, many applications contain errors that could result in incorrect eligibility decisions for children.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) conducted initial research and testing to design an improved prototype paper application — which they provide on their website — and thousands of school districts have adopted or modified that application for their own use.

Earlier this year, FNS released a nationally representative study of the incidence and dollar value associated with various types of error in the school meal programs, including errors made by households during the application process. The study found that the most common household errors were mistakes in reporting household income, household size, or a combination of both. These mistakes lead to both over-certification (where income-ineligible households are approved for free or reduced price meal benefits) and under-certification (where income-eligible households are denied benefits).

For a digest of tools and resources developed with the benefit of these research findings, please check out the challenge resources page.

Who will use this new online application?

States and school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program may adopt and/or adapt the electronic application prototype for their own use. The applications will typically be completed by adults who are the heads of households containing children in grades K-12. They will use the application to apply for free or reduced-price school meal benefits for one or more of the children in their home. In addition to children who are categorically eligible for benefits (children who are in foster care, homeless, migrant, runaway, or live in households participating in certain government assistance programs), children living in households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meal benefits.

Can you tell me more about the specific user needs of the heads of households?

Yes and no. Household situations vary and applicants are very diverse, so the electronic application’s user experience must resonate with individuals of all demographic backgrounds and levels of technological proficiency.

Thanks, and happy hacking!

The E.A.T. School Lunch UX Challenge Team