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Stanford Social Innovation Review: The New Practice of Public Problem Solving

The relentless focus on what users need and how they experience services brings people into the process of providing feedback for services where they have not traditionally had a voice. For nonprofit leaders, it creates a place to review their rules, forms, and theories. For example, Marina Nitze, former CTO of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, assembled her colleagues and asked veterans to demonstrate what it’s like to try to access the department’s 62 benefits programs on a computer without high-speed Internet. What the experiment unequivocally revealed was that the problem was not only the Internet speed (phone and mail applications were also terrible experiences) or the 62 websites; it was the entire archaic and Byzantine process of accessing benefits.

This people-centered or people-first focus is also under way in local communities. Built for Zero, run by Community Solutions, is an initiative to tackle chronic and veteran homelessness that brings together key stakeholders to create a defined and shared list of homeless people in a community as a first step toward servicing their needs. By helping various entities share real-time data through a dashboard available to stakeholders, Built for Zero puts the unhoused and their needs back at the center of the process. It knows by name—not statistics—who it is serving.