Rebuilding Public Systems to Work for Everyone

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

As our nation is reckoning with a poorly managed pandemic, we’re also grappling with 16 million people unemployed, estimates as high as 54 million people facing hunger, and another 40 million at risk of being evicted. The systems that were supposed to help people when they need it are overwhelmed and unable to provide services at the speed of need. This is the time to reimagine systems to ensure they actually work for people, are designed equitably, and can deliver in a timely manner using modern technology.

At the Beeck Center, we believe that we can use data to better tailor services for what people need and can use digital tools to provide a more human-centered delivery. Our experts know how to redesign public programs, train those in charge so this can be sustainable, and provide roadmaps to deliver outcomes to help people thrive and transform their lives.

Because every person counts

One of the most important systems that can create transformative change this year and beyond is the 2020 Census. Done well and accurately, this year’s census has the potential to put decision-making power back in the hands of the people and ensure their needs are heard and met. The census count determines where roads are built, where economic development is targeted, where health care facilities are available, how much money goes to public schools, and so much more. The census affects our everyday lives.

The census has been ongoing for several months now; however, the current truncated timeline does not give the Census Bureau the time it needs to conduct a complete and accurate count. As of September 1, there are still 25 million households yet to be counted in only four weeks, especially in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities — and we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. As the count comes to a close, Beeck Center Fellow Denice Ross and Student Analyst Taylor Savell have been preparing officials for the challenges ahead. Check out their conversation about what comes next for the census.

Ensuring Census data is accurate and representative of our country’s population is only one step in helping people thrive. State Chief Data Officers, or CDOs, are critical to target health resources, public safety resources and economic recovery. When empowered, CDOs can help governors and mayors inform equitable policies. During COVID-19, State CDOs are working with governors to use data and share updates with the public, map food distribution sites, and integrate testing and hospitalization data across disparate sources. At the Beeck Center, Fellow Tyler Kleykamp and Researcher Katya Abazajian have been working with our network of State CDOs to design a roadmap for states to leverage data in how they plan for economic recovery during this pandemic.

Making the safety net system more equitable, just, and easy to navigate

COVID-19 has especially affected Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant households. The structural inequities have disproportionately intensified the pandemic’s adverse impacts for them. Our benefit systems and overall economic recovery plans should be able to better target and help those most adversely affected. However, they are not resourced or equipped for that. Most importantly, the social safety net system is notoriously difficult to navigate and is not user friendly. Additionally, it was designed to exclude Black Americans intentionally. We have an opportunity to change this. Many have begun leveraging design, data, and technology to make the social safety net more equitable, just, and easy to navigate, especially during a crisis. Fellows Chad Smith and Sara Soka have documented these initiatives and included suggestions for government executives, policymakers, and philanthropic organizations on how they can create a more integrated, human-centered safety net.

This current moment has demonstrated that we can no longer ignore the resounding call for justice and transformation across all of our intersecting public systems. We must directly respond to the needs of those whom we have collectively overlooked time and time again. At the Beeck Center, we believe that while data, design, and technology are crucial levers, the real work is in dreaming, building, and recreating our systems with and for the people we serve.

Developing new solutions to old problems.