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OPM Lab Takes the Lead on Innovation

Team uses human-centered design to help agencies improve services.

Our federal workforce is talented, passionate, and creative. To harness this spirit of ingenuity, the Office of Personnel Management created the Lab@OPM to help agencies translate the creativity of their employees into innovative action. A recent project with Food and Nutrition Services at the Agriculture Department shows how the Lab@OPM can bring fresh ideas to life.

One of the many vital services that the federal government provides is the National School Lunch Program. Run by USDA, it gives healthy and low-cost or free meals to more than 30 million children each school day. USDA came to the lab with an important, but complex, question: “How can we make it easier for families to provide accurate information about eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program?”

The Lab@OPM was created in 2012 to assist federal agencies in developing innovative solutions to just such complicated problems. These partnerships lead to new ideas about how the federal government can better deliver services and programs. At the heart of the lab’s work is human-centered design, a process that looks at solving problems from the point of view of people who will be using a particular product or service.

To help USDA with its free and reduced lunch program, the OPM lab team worked with USDA representatives. They reviewed the rules of the program, interviewed school officials and families, brainstormed solutions and redesigned the application. In keeping with the human-centered design model, the new form was tested with families before it was approved by school officials.

The new lunch application is only one page long, and includes small but important changes, such as providing more space to write children’s full names and a simpler design. USDA launched the redesigned form last month. The agency hopes that families will find the application process easier, and that schools will find it more effective.

Caring for our nation’s children is one of our top priorities as a government. Making sure that each child has a nutritious, filling meal every day is one of the best ways we can set students up for success. I am proud that OPM is playing a role in carrying out this mission.

And all of us at OPM are thrilled to provide a space for agencies across government to innovate and share creative problem-solving skills. The Lab@OPM helped USDA determine that a new form was the best solution for its problem. Our lab team looks forward to working with many more agencies to help them come up with solutions for the unique situations they face. 

Federal employees work each and every day to make our nation stronger and to better serve the needs of every American. It’s our job at OPM to support our workforce in these goals. I’m excited to watch as the Lab@OPM continues to play an important role in government innovation. 

(Image via Bloomua/Shutterstock.com)

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