We launched the first Designing for Financial Empowerment (DFE) project with the goal of making free tax preparation services in New York City more effective and accessible through the process of service design—to tackle a complex question that had no easy answer:
- Why are financially vulnerable New Yorkers paying for a service they can get for free?
As a result of this project, DCA and the rest of the DFE project team were not only able to co-design several innovative solutions that may succeed in improving the effectiveness of free tax preparation services, but also to expand both DCA’s ability to use service design in its ongoing work and Parsons’ capacity to shape the process to the needs of the public sector.
Through this project, the DFE team spoke directly with clients, former paid tax preparers, and other key stakeholders, uncovering valuable information about New Yorkers’ perceptions of free tax preparation services and identifying opportunities to enhance the client experience. After a rigorous and iterative process of co-design, the team identified the VITA Portal, an easy-to-use digital kiosk, as the most promising enhancement.
As the team moved from the Prototyping phase and began discussions about piloting the VITA Portal, the team determined that we would not be able to launch the VITA Portal in time for the 2016 tax season due to the time required to scope, provision, build, and test the new service. Luckily, the Co-Design and Prototyping phases yielded several viable service concepts, two of which are being implemented in 2016: branding all sites participating in NYC’s Annual Tax Season Initiative as NYC FREE TAX PREP sites and employer-based VITA sites.
Making sure all of the potential constraints of implementation are considered during the Prototyping phase is just one of the valuable lessons we learned during this first DFE project. Here are three other key takeaways from the project team: