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51: How Ideas Turn into Apps with the Team Behind the MFIP Connect App

Published November 10, 2020
Run time: 00:43:53
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Building an app isn’t just about the technology but about the lives it makes easier. Ashley Bennett, Sook Jin Ong, and Pamela McCauley share the inspiring story behind the development of the Minnesota Family Investment Program’s pilot app, MFIP Connect. They discuss the app’s powerful role as a communication tool, along with the unexpected questions around social equity it brought to the table. They dig deep into how they prioritized initial features, knowing they wouldn’t meet the needs of every user, and how feedback gave them space to innovate.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How the app uses technology to reduce compliance barriers for program participants
  • Why MFIP started with a pilot app versus building the ideal app to meet the needs of every participant
  • How they prioritized features by collaborating with those who would benefit from the app
  • How an app won’t be for everyone, and why that’s okay
  • How technology has increased the discussion of social equity
  • How an app improves communication and streamlines work
  • How introducing an app in an organization’s workflow leads to building new habits
  • Why you shouldn’t be afraid of your product not working perfectly
  • Why it’s important to hear from like-minded people as well as people who think it might not work
  • Why you should always consider the real world experience of your product

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded October 22, 2020 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski

Show Notes:

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at all things technical. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.

Today we are chatting with Pamela McCauley, Ashley Bennett and Sook Jin Ong about the development of an app for the Minnesota Family Investment Program, or MFIP, as we'll discuss in the show. The MFIP Connect app helps people who are on government assistance stay in touch with their counselors and county workers, as well as offer resources to support them on their journeys. In this episode, we dig deep into how the app was conceived and built with end users in mind. We also discuss how ideas turn into apps, adoption techniques, and surprises in the development process. So without further ado, here is my interview with Ashley Bennett, Sook Jin Ong, and Pamela McCauley.

Sook Jin, Pamela, Ashley, welcome to the show.

Sook Jin 1:06

Pamela McCauley 1:07
Hello. Good afternoon.

Ashley Bennett 1:09
Thank you for having us.

Tim Bornholdt 1:12
This is gonna be a lot of fun. Like we were talking about beforehand with all of us talking over each other, being virtual, but that's okay. We'll make it work, right?

Pamela McCauley 1:21
Yes, exactly.

Ashley Bennett 1:22

Tim Bornholdt 1:23
So why don't we start maybe doing some quick introductions and just explain what your role was in building the MFIP Connect app. And we can just start with Sook Jin.

Sook Jin 1:34
Awesome. Hi, everyone. I'm Sook Jin Ong, and I'm with the University of Minnesota's Future Services Institute. We were the organization that partnered with Minnesota Department of Human Services as kind of the incubator space to help the MFIP Connect app come alive.

Tim Bornholdt 1:52
Pamela, go ahead.

Pamela McCauley 1:53
Good afternoon. This is Pamela McCauley and I work for the Department of Human Services in the Economic Assistance and Employment Supports Division. And my role, I was introduced to the pilot app when I joined DHS in 2016. This was an idea that came about by one of my former staff persons and in collaboration with Future Services Institute, we took it and launched it and I'm really excited to talk about it today.

Tim Bornholdt 2:18
Excellent. Ashley.

Ashley Bennett 2:19
Yeah. I'm Ashley and I work for Future Services Institute. And I came in about midway. Well, I don't know if it was midway, but once the project had already been launched, and my role was to help with expansion, help introduce the app to new counties. And then shortly after I was on the project, then the state, which we'll talk about later, I'm sure, or the Department of Human Services decided that they wanted to launch that statewide. And so then I assisted with the period of transitioning the pilot app to a state-wide app, which is still in progress, as we speak, actually.

Tim Bornholdt 3:14
Nice. Well, Ashley, since you're still talking, I'll throw the next question to you right away. For everyone that's listening and might not be familiar with MFIP, why don't you describe, what the organization does, and in particular, what does the app do?

Ashley Bennett 3:30
Yeah, so MFIP Connect is an app that allows MFIP counselors, Minnesota Family Investment Program, a program that is part of the Department of Human Services provides support for families. What it does is it allows counselors in that program, both those that are county counselors and those that assist with employment, and those are counselors typically at organizations that may be a nonprofit, to communicate with those in the program. And as I just mentioned, there are counselors that might be county counselors, and there's counselors that might be employment counselors, etc. So there's counselors in different places, that have different needs from those in the programs to make sure that as far as like paperwork, just things to make sure their status in the program is good and just different needs that they might have for the participant.

And so this app was really designed, and Sook Jin and Pamela probably can speak to it more, but as a communication tool to allow easier communication between those in the program and the counselors and then also as a way to potentially turn in things without necessarily having to go in to a location or having to mail something in. Sonyou could take a picture in the app of something that maybe you filled out or worked on, and you can send it to your counselor, you can send a message to your counselor, you can ask questions. But yeah, essentially, it's a communication tool.

Tim Bornholdt 5:31
That's awesome. Pamela, you had mentioned before, the idea came from a former staff person, and I'm interested to hear how was it determined that an app was needed to help solve this problem?

Pamela McCauley 5:44
That's a great question. It gives me an opportunity to tell you a little bit about why we think it's important and why our staff person thought this would be a helpful tool for our participants. It's part of the Minnesota Family Investment Program, which I may start calling MFIP, because we do speak in acronyms at Department of Human Services.

Tim Bornholdt 6:01
Any government.

Pamela McCauley 6:02
Any government, right, it's all acronyms. So, MFIP, or Minnesota Family Investment Program, is a work first program. And what that means is, we have individuals, we work with families or pregnant women, you have to have at least be pregnant or have at least a child. And they apply for cash assistance, food support assistance, and there's other programs they may be eligible for, if they're determined to be eligible for the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Part of the program requirements is that we do require a lot of verifications and documentations. So in order to remain eligible for the program, participants have to continuously turn in documentation. And so the former staff person acknowledged that transportation is an issue within the state of Minnesota, many of our families have barriers to remaining compliant with our program, with again, transportation being one of them. And so she just thought, what if there were an easier way where our participants wouldn't have to come into the office to turn documents in. And so that's kind of what hatched the idea of this MFIP app. And one of the goals of the app was that again, our participants could more easily comply with the program and therefore reduce the negative outcomes of not complying. For example, if there is non compliance on the program, their grant could be reduced by 10% or 30% and eventually close off. And so our hopes was to reduce barriers to compliance.

Tim Bornholdt 7:37
That's really cool that you're using that technology to actually make people's lives easier. Because yeah, I could imagine being on government assistance like that, you've already got enough things going on in your life and to have to take a step out to turn in forms and have to make that part of your routine, to be able to remove that barrier and make your life just a little bit easier by being able to submit it through an app, that's super powerful.

Pamela McCauley 8:00
Absolutely. And one of the measures that we have coming from the federal government, it's called the work participation rate. And that measurement is really based upon compliance. And are the states, the county and tribal representatives, receiving primarily documentation that will demonstrate that the participant is in compliance. And so it's really important that we reduce any barriers that would prohibit the participant from not getting their documents in, one, for them, but also on the federal level due to our work participation rate requirements.

Tim Bornholdt 8:37
And it seems like an app in this instance is really a no brainer. But I would assume, again, like we said, you know, governments, if it's anything, there's acronyms, and there's barriers. So I would assume that there may have been some hesitation somewhere in the chain, how did you end up ultimately getting buy in from everyone involved at MFIP or just in general with the project? How did you go from the idea to getting everybody on board to push it forward and get it done?

Pamela McCauley 9:04
Well, what I can tell you is, speaking for our division, we recognize that our most vulnerable population and in greatest need of assistance, they don't need any additional barriers in order to comply with our complex program rules. So the buy in part at the state level was relatively easy. We have data to document that there's inequities within our program, amongst African Americans, American Indians. They're not succeeding at the level that their white counterparts are. So the buy in at the state was easy, let's reduce barriers. Let's try to decrease the inequities that we're seeing happening in our program. And speaking for the county, our county and tribal partners, and Ashely, or Sook Jin, can speak more to the initial response from our county and tribal partners as I came in a little bit later than Sook Jin, but I feel from talking to our partners, they were excited about the idea. They recognized the barriers that our participants are facing. And they were looking forward to an opportunity to also decrease those barriers.

So what I will also add is that this app started out as a pilot. And as Ashley mentioned earlier, that pilot continues to function while we are building a new app, an improved app upon the MFIP app. We knew that we weren't building the quote, unquote, an ideal app. That it was not going to meet every need of the workers or the participants. But we wanted to start. We wanted to pilot something that we hope we could build upon. And that's exactly what we're doing now. And so I think our partners at the county and tribes were excited about the opportunity to be part of this pilot so that they could also provide their input on how we could make it better as we continue to add on and build.

Sook Jin 10:57
I really love that. I think, you know, to that point. It's a very similar sentiment at the very start of this project, too. So way back in 2015, those of us at the University had, I should say, a contract with the same department, the same unit in the Department of Human Services, to really look at what are some ways we could help the state better redesign the MFIP program to better serve participants. And it's really through these interactions between state, county and those at the nonprofit service providers where that excitement, right, for something like these to come up. And I mean, if you bring yourself back to 2015, that's when you start seeing online banking, you start seeing apps that would accept checks, right, that you could cash in, you start seeing, you know, fitness trackers, and so so much of that sentiment of like, Well, if we are seeing other ways that technology could make our lives easier, why don't we, you know, offer the same thing for those who are a part of a program like MFIP. And so much of the initial buy in was like, Well, you know, we could sit and wait forever for the most perfect ideal app to come around to address everybody's needs. Or we could see whatever small amount of money and immediately willing partners to jump on board and try out something at the small scale so that we are actually getting the feedback, getting it out there and learning from the MFIP participants and the workers in this area what their experiences were like.

And so when we first started building this app, and that's why the University of Minnesota Future Services Institute became kind of an incubation partner, because we knew that that way, it frees up the ability for the state to partner with us, for us to help facilitate those conversations at the local level, and then to help build this particular app at its pilot stage, so that the learnings then fit into something much larger down the line. I think it was so great to have leaders at the state then who recognized that longer term vision and I mean, fast forward to 2020, we find ourselves now seeing DHS being, you know, like going out there, building this statewide app like that's just such a dream come true when I look back on how far this journey has come for us.

Tim Bornholdt 13:51
It really is visionary. And we're in such a weird time at this moment with COVID going on and everything where I would imagine if part of the problem is getting people to show up in person to drop things off, it's like, people probably don't want to drop things off and risk getting COVID or anything like that. So it's nice that there's this forward thinking that was done several years ago to set yourself up for that kind of success.

I wanted to ask you too, Sook Jin, in terms of getting this built, there's so many players involved. But I as a nerd, I guess, myself, one of the parts that I'm interested in is the development side of things. How did you determine who would help out with actually building the technical side of things? Did you have somebody in house that helped facilitate that? Or what was the process for determining who that was going to be?

Sook Jin 14:40
Yeah, that's actually a great question. So we put out an RFP for that one. We knew that we had a small amount of money that we were allocated to work on this project. We put out an RFP and was really clear about the public value that this particular project would bring. And we had some really great bids. And so the one that we ended up going with is DKS Systems. They're a locally based organization that, you know, builds apps and websites and whatnot, and just between their values of really wanting to see how to use their app development smarts, right, especially in a project like this where there is just such significant public value to get out of it. They were like, Yeah, we would love to do this, and they have just been such great partners to have in this space.

Tim Bornholdt 15:39
That's awesome. I've looked into different RFPs, especially from the government side, but we've never done an app with a government agency. So it's interesting to hear how that, just maybe like a real quick side tangent, but on that RFP, how do you actually sit down and come up with building that? Is it basically you have kind of a template that you follow? And then you plug in after you've talked about what the app could do? And just kind of throwing out a wish list? Or how does that process work on your end?

Sook Jin 16:10
Yeah, that's also a great question. So prior to that, we at the university, as well as our state counterparts, had already had a couple of conversations with some of the county partners we were working with, and the nonprofit folks that were in this space to really say like, If we are going to come up with some technological solution, right, to this issue of improving access in this program, what might that look like? So there were, you know, like visioning sessions, conversations with counselors, and financial workers at the county, and some participants were involved as well. What might this look like, right? And then of all the different ideas that came out, we also then narrowed down and prioritized like, what's that minimum viable product, right, that's so to speak. What's the least that we could do that is going to make the biggest difference. And that's where going to what Pamela and Ashley said earlier, that piece around submitting paperwork and making sure that they're on track and having ways to communicate with those they work with in the program. That's such a big piece of the participation in this program. And so if we could just start with that, like that's already going to make such a big difference in the participants lives.

Tim Bornholdt 17:44
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And that kind of answered my next question, too, of how the initial features of the app were determined, and it really seems like it was a very big collaborative effort. Sometimes you think, at least me being naive and not knowing too much about the inner workings of government, it's like, you can see how it could just be a committee of four or five people just saying, Uh, the app should do this. And there you go. It's like, No, that's not really how it seemed like it went. You actually went out and interviewed people and talked with the people that are actually going to benefit from the app and get value from it and kind of synthesized all that information into a wish list. And, of course, you can't collect, you can't do everything all at once, like you said earlier. But if you just get started and get the ball rolling, then that generates excitement, and it generates use, and you can see the value and it just kind of grows from there. Is that kind of an accurate summary of how all the initial app features were determined?

Sook Jin 18:39
Pretty much.

Tim Bornholdt 18:40
Nailed it. Pamela, question for you. With regards to actually going out and getting this adopted, I would assume that having people part of the conversation from day one was certainly helpful. But was there much resistance or much difficulty in getting the users of the app, or just the various counselors, all the different constituencies involved with the app, was there a lot of difficulty in getting it adopted? Or was it pretty much right from the go, it's like, Just make this app so we can use it right now?

Pamela McCauley 19:11
That's a great question. Thank you for asking that. I would say that there wasn't a lot of difficulty. Because, again, the frontline workers and the participants recognized the value in the tool right away. I think where I would say where we struggled, which we knew at the state was going to be a known struggle, is that again, we weren't creating the ideal tool. It wasn't gonna have all the bells and whistles that we knew everyone would want. And as my colleagues previously said, we just wanted to start. We knew we had an opportunity. Albeit, we know it wasn't gonna be a large scale statewide project. We knew we had an opportunity to do something and we wanted to just do something to address again, those barriers and those inequities. So I think, although we saw the value of an improved communication tool, we knew that we were going to get feedback right away. And we did. And we wanted that. We wanted feedback from the frontline workers, from the participants, telling us, Okay, here's what we need to make this better. So there may have been frustration because it wasn't this ideal resource communication tool. But again, we expected that. And we were hoping, and we did definitely receive feedback on how to make it better. And we're implementing some of that feedback into the build of the future app as well. So I would say, not a lot of pushback, but definitely a lot of feedback on here's how we can make it better. And we're super excited to implement some of those ideas.

Tim Bornholdt 20:43
And that's how you know you're doing something right is when you get a lot of people coming back at you saying, Oh it's got to do this, this and this. Then you know you're on to something because the worst thing you can get is you show somebody an app, and it's just kind of met with indifference at best. So like you said, people are going to be frustrated or disappointed that it didn't do A, B and C. And it's almost like training people to say, No, that's a good thing. Because then we know that there's a place that we can push this app and continue to innovate and show that we are listening to the feedback. And we're going to be introducing it as as we move forward.

Pamela McCauley 21:19
Right. And that's a great summation. I would also add something that we learned, which again, we knew, but then we really acknowledged on an intellectual level, but then really understood it better when we launched the pilot app was that, it won't be for everyone. And that's okay. For example, in our more rural communities, our smaller communities, where there's familiarity with the community and with the families that live in the community, where there's this comfort level where people feel more comfortable just walking into the office and saying, Here's what I need, or Here's what you need. Some of our more rural communities didn't feel that there was a need for an app because their caseloads were small, they knew the person that they were providing services to and so that more in-person was a better tool for them. So we learned that along the way and we know that moving forward, this won't be for everyone. But we do know that it will be for enough people that we can again address those barriers that we're aware of.

Tim Bornholdt 22:23
I love it. Ashley, I'm not forgetting about you. I want to loop you back into the conversation here too. Now that you've gone through kind of this pilot program, I'm assuming since it's continuing to grow statewide, that there's been success. Can you touch on, what has that success looked like? What success the app has brought, and how it has improved communication and really streamlined processes within the organization?

Ashley Bennett 22:49
Yeah, it has definitely brought success. The two things I would say. So, there's been success, of course. And then another thing that it's brought is just questions in general and helped us ask questions that will help expand on the work that the state is doing to continue to build the app. So I say that because as important are the successes are some of the questions that just are being asked and things that we're thinking about now, maybe more so now than before. But as far as just questions around technology, and what does it mean to introduce an app? And what does equity look like in that space, right, for people to have access to the app. So just a lot of questions, things that maybe we thought about, but are thinking about even more so now. And then in terms of success, as Pamela's pointed out, it's been different in different spaces. But a lot of counties what we've heard them say is just the ability to communicate with participants, for people to be able to turn things in. When we did an evaluation, in kind of what is called a UX lab, so user experience lab, so a lab where we just kind of test out the app. People came in and they were kind of talking to us about their experiences with the app and just going over what they thought was good in the app, what was not good in the app. And one thing they talked about, we had a couple people talk about instead of having to come out in snowstorms or take their children out and things like that, they were able to just send something in and how helpful that was for them. And yeah, different counties it's been more successful.

Tim Bornholdt 25:00
I think that was super well said though of, it seemed like it was kind of successful just from the beginning with having all that interest and then with the launch. I really liked how you brought it around and said that the success of the launch was really in the questions that came out of the pilot of where can we take this technology and actually use it to be more equitable. And when you're doing focus groups and UX labs like that, those are super helpful with getting those insights initially, but it's nothing compared to the insights that you get when the app is kind of at large, and you get all kinds of feedback. Because it never fails whenever we've built an app, we, as a team, you can have all the kind of marketing and sales and strategy brainpower behind something, but it's like, it just takes one person to send in an email and be like, Why doesn't it do this? And it completely makes you feel so dumb? Because you're like, How did we forget that? Or like, why didn't we have that insight like right out of the gate? And it really helps you kind of steer where the app can go. So I really liked that point. I think that's a good way of measuring success is that you're not sitting still on just, Okay, well, we put this out and we helped a couple of people. It's like, No, now we can really like figure out how we can take this app and push it into another direction.

Pamela McCauley 26:22
I think that's a great point. We have learned so much from the pilot. You know, I can't thank enough our seven or so pilot counties that helped us or are trying to help with this pilot, because we've learned that this app and this resource can be used statewide, and it can go beyond the programs that are administered at the Department of Human Services. And a future, the new app that we're building now will do that. It will serve people with disabilities, veterans, and other programs that are connected to employment services. We knew with our pilot app that it wasn't going to be accessible to everyone. So now we're working closely with State Services for the Blind to make sure the new app is accessible to those that are visually impaired. So to your point, the learning from this pilot app was tremendous.

Tim Bornholdt 27:11
As part of those learnings, Pamela, you touched on the accessibility point, I really like that. Are there other things that you collected from that feedback that you've directly added into as you've gone off into the statewide launch and the recent update that you made?

Pamela McCauley 27:28
So there's one huge thing that has happened from our pilot app, and it was one of the, I would say, initial pieces of feedback we received from the employment counselors. And so I'll clarify, with the pilot app, it was just with Minnesota Family Investment Program employment counselors. There's also financial workers that are attached to the cases, there's childcare workers that are attached to the case. And so one of the first pieces of feedback we received from the employment counselors was that, Oh, it'd be great if as we're getting these documents in via the app, we could just upload them to our case management system. And that was always kind of our long term goal. As Ashley mentioned, we're working with DEED, who's building the new app. And they own the case management system for the employment counselors, not just for our program, but other state programs as well.

So we got that right away, it would be great if we could upload these documents right to, what's called, the Workforce One system. And that's going to happen with the new app. The participant will send in information via the app, which they'll use on their smartphone or their tablet, and the employment counselor will be able to upload it to the Workforce One system where they maintain that case. The financial worker will go into the actual system, the Workforce One data management system, not the app itself. So they'll manage it from their desktop, but they'll be able to pull information coming in from the participant, upload it to their electronic documents system on their end. So, you know, the world is going paperless at this point. And so we're excited to be part of that process on our end with our program as well.

Tim Bornholdt 29:09
It's super exciting. We've been trying to connect here for a couple of months now. And this whole app is so cool. I feel like I'm kicking myself that I didn't see this RFP when it first came out because I would have been all over this because it's such a cool, empowering tool. It's going to help so many people. I wanted to ask all three of you, just kind of take turns and go through, but i I want to know, from your perspectives, individually, what was surprising about the app development process and what were some of the speed bumps that you ran into that you weren't expecting and ended up ultimately getting over? We can start with Sook Jin.

Sook Jin 29:48
Yeah. So I think it's really easy to think of like, Oh, if you're going to build an app, it's all about the technology. And I mean, we all forget about the fact that humans are on the other side of the app, right? Whether, you know, that's the design thoughts that go into developing it, figuring out the features, all the way to like, what does it mean when you put something like this in the hands of the staff that are corresponding with the participants. And what does it mean for the participants who are using the app? Right? It's all about building new habits, right? And I mean, you know, a lot of us are, I'm sure, very guilty of downloading apps onto our phones and never using them beyond that initial excitement. And so you know, it's not just about the technology itself, or that technical build, but really thinking about, you know, how do you then help people build new habits of using this app. Like we have the best of intentions to make this useful. But it's only going to be as useful as the participants say so, right. And so I think, to borrow something that Pamela said earlier, it's easy to kind of intellectually think like, Of course, we have to build ways to help counties and nonprofits to implement things. But you know, that's an intellectual exercise until you actually work closely with those who are going to be affected by something like this, and learn from their experience and realize what it actually takes for something like this to be successful. And once again, it's just so awesome to see the partners that we have at DHS, like Pamela and her whole team, where they fully back that understanding. It's not just like, Alright, we make an app, we're done. But really, you know, like, Okay, what does it really take for these to be successful? And to have that kind of support like that is so crucial in work like this, and that's what makes it go on for as long as it has.

Tim Bornholdt 32:02
It is shocking, how often, especially when I'm sitting in code, and just thinking about how I would use an app and how it would benefit me, it's like, that doesn't really mean anything. At the end of the day, it's got to provide value to somebody else. And that is one of the weirdest things that people I hear take away often is it's not always just about the tech. It is about at the end of the day, who's going to actually use this app and is it actually going to make somebody's life easier.

Pamela, what about you? What was surprising about the the app development process, and any speed bumps that you didn't really see coming, that you were able to overcome?

Pamela McCauley 32:40
Sure. So I think the speed bump that I didn't necessarily see coming, and it's been a multitude of speed bumps through all this. It's the same speed bump, though, and that is that we, again, at the state level recognize the value of the app. And I think, as I was saying earlier, it was initially just launched with employment counselors, and now going statewide, and having multiple frontline workers use it, it's been a bit of a selling point. We really had to sell that this is going to be successful, which has been great. We believe it's going to be successful. We think it's going to be a great tool. And it's motivating us to make sure that we have a successful launch of the rebuild. But what's happening is, because we're now incorporating financial workers and childcare workers, what they're gonna have to do is access a system again, Workforce One, that they haven't had to access before. So I in no way want to minimize this is going to be a change for many of the frontline workers having to access this additional system. So I've really been focusing on that. DHS is committed to reducing barriers and improving the inequities of service delivery that we already know exist. And focusing on we are serving people who are deeply in need. And that may mean that we at the state and at the counties and tribes may have to do some additional lifts in order to help decrease the barriers for the people that we serve. But that is the reason why we're here. And so that's been an ongoing continuous conversation that we are trying to make the lives of our participants a little bit easier. And that may mean we may have to pick up a little bit of the weight ourselves. So that I think was my biggest surprise, talking to frontline staff that aren't seeing the value that we see. But we understand that they go through a lot of changes and change is hard and that this will add again an additional system that they have to access but I'd say that has been my biggest surprise.

Tim Bornholdt 34:55
It's funny how it's rarely the technology itself. It's the people behind it. So it makes sense in that there'd have to be a little extra selling, especially since it's statewide. That's so many people that are going to need to be involved in that process. So I totally empathize with that speed bump. Ashley, what about you? What's been surprising to you about the app development process?

Ashley Bennett 35:22
Similar to what Sook Jin and Pamela said, when we talk about the building of an app, we always build it, and they'll come, or that's a saying that you hear a lot. But yeah, so initially in building the app, we knew the technology piece, we knew we would build the app. And we knew there would be training guides that would be needed to kind of introduce people to the app. But something we maybe, and this kind of speaks to what Pamela was talking about when she was talking about frontline staff and Sook Jin was speaking about when she was talking about new habits, but part of the app because it's a communication tool, there's two components. There is an app interface. And then there is an online interface. So there's introducing people to the technology, but you're also, in many ways, because this is just a new way of working, introducing a completely new way of working and doing things. So as organizations are working to introduce the app, there's some work that they have to do on their side, because they have a lot of staff, and maybe they're not used to using an app to work with the clients. And so when we were going to the different counties, initially we didn't maybe see this as much. But we started to see that we had to really work with them to create new processes for this, so they had to really change some ways that they were doing things. In addition to introducing the technology and how to use it, they had to create new processes for what does it mean, for how often do I need to respond, do I need to respond soon so that people know that it's working, and just, that was a big piece. And that's why sometimes the frontline staff, it requires selling as Pamela said, because there's definitely going to be some new ways of doing things. Ultimately, the new ways of doing things will benefit people in the end, but there's definitely a transition period.

Tim Bornholdt 36:32
That makes perfect sense. I think the last question I wanted to ask everybody is, what's one thing that you would suggest that somebody if they're undergoing this process, and I think it's interesting from all of your perspectives, there's such unique approaches to this. Because usually I'm dealing with people inside enterprises or small businesses or startups, so having it from kind of the public sector way of looking at it, what's one piece of advice that each of you would offer up to somebody that's in the public sector that has an idea for an app that they think can really improve the public good and improve people's lives in helping them to get started? What would you kind of say about all this process that you'd want them to know at the outset? And, Ashley, we can start with you on this one?

Ashley Bennett 38:38
I'd say get a team. Where's been a lot of collaboration in this project. And it's required a team, so to speak, with teamwork. So find people who are excited about the app. I think even Pamela or Sook Jin could speak to this more, but like in the initial phases, the woman who really had the initial idea, once she started talking to other people, it kind of became a bigger thing. And so yeah, find a team, find other people who kind of think like mind and go from there.

Tim Bornholdt 39:15
Pamela, how about you?

Pamela McCauley 39:16
I think that's a great answer, Ashley, thank you. The first thing that popped into my head was, just try it. Again, this started with an idea. And from an idea came conversation and from that conversation, an app was built that has helped people. And so my suggestion would be if you have an idea, and you think it's going to work and it's going to benefit people, just try it and don't be afraid of it not working perfectly. I agree with Ashley, find folks that are like minded that are going to support the idea, but I would also encourage you to find people that aren't, that maybe will say here's the things that this may not work for these reasons, because I think it's important to hear that voice as well as to why this may not work. And then it gives you the opportunity, as we stated earlier to help resolve those issues. But even if you can't resolve all of the issues, it doesn't mean you shouldn't move forward and try it.

Tim Bornholdt 40:12
I love it. Sook Jin, how about you?

Sook Jin 40:14
I would second everything that both Ashley and Pamela said. Those were the things that came to mind too. The one other thing I would add is always consider what the real experience will be like for those who would be impacted, not just the end users, but all the other folks that your app will touch along the way, right, so to speak. I think we were just so grateful to have deep, honest conversations with counties and other organizations, with their experiences, and to learn from that. And also to have, you know, that ability to facilitate these conversations, right. So Ashley really brings her Human Centered Design smarts to this and, you know, listened, facilitated deeply, and really, you know, like, help the organizations that we partner with in this pilot to surface those knowledge. And then we have just the policy brains in Pamela's team and Pamela herself to really then help us make sense of like, well, there's this app, but you know, it's part of this larger program that's provided by the government. So how does this kind of fit, right, so you really need almost everyone at the table bringing, you know, their skill sets to bear and it's true, really listening and really using all these different perspectives that then we get to come up with something and keep improving this app in a way that makes sense with a context that it needs to thrive.

Tim Bornholdt 42:00
Those are all such great points. And I'm so, I guess the right word would be, proud of being like a Minnesotan and a Gopher alum. It's so cool to see that this is happening in my state. That there's people that care as much as you three care about this program and about the power of this software that can really change people's lives. And it's very inspiring. And I commend all of you for your hard work on getting this out the door because I've built many apps in my day. And it's not an easy process. So being able to stick through it and really keep your eye on the prizes. It's so cool. And it's such an honor to speak to all three of you today. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me here about the app.

Pamela McCauley 42:42
Thank you so much.

Ashley Bennett 42:43
Thank you.

Sook Jin 42:44
Thank you.

Tim Bornholdt 42:47
Thanks to Sook Jin, Ashley and Pamela for joining me today on the podcast. You can learn more about their work on the MFIP app by visiting MFIPConnect.com. Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the volitional Jordan Daoust.

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