The Lab @ DC
Stronger Evidence for a Stronger DC

Can residents transform government paperwork?

Can residents transform government paperwork?

Partners
District Residents
9 District Agencies
Project Summary
Forms are not just an entry point to government services; they are hundreds of thousands of points from which we broadcast our values to residents. A bad form can too often feel like a tedious barrier to getting necessary services. A good form can value a residents’ time and even honor their identity. At day-long workshops and through robust user-testing, we put residents at the center of 37 government form redesigns. In 2019 and 2020, we’re using the same strategies to redesign forms for homeowner assistance in the District.

Why is this issue important in DC?
A poorly designed form isn’t just frustrating, it’s an important public service problem for our city. When Mayor Muriel Bowser set high-quality customer service as a core value to guide her administration, we began with a simple idea: who better to remake ineffective forms than the residents that use them?

What did we do?
In 2017, The Lab @ DC launched a new initiative called Form-a-Palooza to overhaul our city’s paper forms. We asked Washingtonians which forms gave them the most grief. Then, we brought together residents, our government colleagues, and experts in user-centered design for day-long workshops to improve forms through guided activities. Our team finalized the user-driven redesigns with our agency partners, and residents helped us by user testing them. Based on our experience, we trained more than 30 DC government staff in form redesign and posted guidelines on formapalooza.dc.gov.

Residents workshop new form designs in small groups. (Credit: David Ris)

Residents workshop new form designs in small groups. (Credit: David Ris)

What have we learned?
Forms are typically designed by the government staff who run the services behind them. This makes sense. They’re the content experts, but we need residents to help us recognize the pain points for users of the form. In the past two years, we’ve redesigned 37 forms, including the school enrollment packet, driver’s license application, and basic business license (see the complete list on formapalooza.dc.gov).

 
Often it feels like decisions have been made before the meeting starts and community outreach is perfunctory. So cool when you participate in a community effort initiated by the government and you are able to see tangible evidence of a meaningful partnership. The forms are a thing of beauty. Kudos to the Lab.
— Karla Reid-Witt, District resident and Form-a-Palooza event participant

What comes next?
The Lab continues to work with District agencies on making their forms more accessible for residents. From 2019-2020, we are focusing this user-centered design work on District programs that support prospective and current DC homeowners. Check out our Front Door project to learn more.

What happened behind the scenes?
When we worked on the 2019-2020 school enrollment packet, our nonbinary residents told us they had no space to acknowledge their gender. They helped us realize that we didn’t need to be restrictive in offering only female or male. Adding a nonbinary checkbox was a step toward helping our students feel acknowledged.