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Human-centered design in a time of crisis

Insights for HHS agencies during and after COVID-19

Propelling the country into an unprecedented health and economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has put significant strain on the nation’s social safety net. Spending billions of dollars on programs to save lives and keep people afloat economically, health and human services (HHS) agencies and labor and workforce development programs are dealing with demand for services at volumes most of them have never seen before. Many individuals and families find themselves interacting with HHS agencies for the first time ever.

Elevating the human experience in a time of crisis: Using human-centered design to meet this moment

Given resource constraints, HHS agencies cannot simply scale-up existing processes to meet this overwhelming need. To deliver service that can make a real difference for the individuals and families that have had their lives upended, agencies should shift their thinking, putting the focus on the experience they deliver to the people they serve. In times of crisis, human-centered design (HCD) becomes even more important as a way of targeting limited resources to areas where they can have the greatest impact.

HCD starts from the premise that individuals’ beliefs, values, feelings, and ambitions help to determine what those people want from organizations that serve them. When an agency designs, develops, and delivers policies and programs, HCD puts people—the individuals and families an agency serves—at the center of that effort. Bringing end users into the design process with public servants and other stakeholders, designers work to understand customer needs and then use those insights to improve service design and delivery.

Here we explore the ways in which HHS leaders are incorporating HCD practices into their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human-centered design in a time of crisis

Amy Freckmann is a specialist leader in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Customer Strategy and Applied Design practice. Her human-centered design teams work with state governments to improve service delivery and create modern experiences for constituents. She can be reached at

Tiffany Dovey Fishman is a senior manager with Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights. Her research and client work focuses on how emerging issues in technology, business, and society will affect organizations. She can be reached at

Jordan Schneidman is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Government & Public Services practice. He has more than 15 years of experience leading technology transformation programs for human services organizations. Throughout his career, Schneidman has led the innovation of solutions and offerings in the areas of human-centered design, service delivery modernization, and digital technologies. He can be reached at

Shelly Metschan is a managing director in Deloitte’s Government and Public Services practice, bringing more than 20 years of experience as a technology transformation leader and more than 15 years focused on the state, local, and higher education industry. Her work includes the implementation of large statewide applications, business process reengineering efforts, contact center implementations, and human-centered design. She can be reached at

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