This FUSE-produced story was originally published on GovTech.
Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) in Los Angeles County serves a broad mix of constituents, including people who are homeless, formerly incarcerated individuals, foster youth, veterans, and older and dependent adults. Collectively, this amounts to a target audience of over a million people, many of whom have complex needs requiring a range of different public services. To implement its programs, WDACS partners with upward of 30 different county departments, community-based organizations (CBOs) and agencies. Not surprisingly, measuring the department’s impact is a complicated business.
In the private sector, especially in for-profit companies, the end goal is easily quantifiable — usually, the bottom line of a profit and loss (P&L) statement. In public-sector organizations, that “bottom line” isn’t always straightforward. That can lead to an over-reliance on measuring outputs — things like how many job training workshops have been delivered or how many people attended a conference — rather than the longer term outcomes WDACS is actually seeking. The agency does not just want to connect individuals with jobs, but they also want those people to be able to retain those jobs so they can be economically independent. They do not just want older adults to attend a technology workshop, but they also want them to have a better quality of life because they know how to navigate a computer.
To better identify and measure these longer-term outcomes, the agency teamed up with FUSE Corps. Here are some lessons we learned about how to apply the principles of consumer marketing to the public sector.
ANALYZE PERFORMANCE DATA BASED ON CUSTOMER SEGMENTS
Customer segmentation is a commonly used marketing practice that helps companies better target their products and services. It involves defining the audience for each product or service line and then segmenting them based on shared challenges, needs and preferences. Once these segments are defined, organizations can set targeted, outcome-based goals for each group of customers.
This kind of customer segmentation proved useful at WDACS. For example, the agency offers various job support services, with a particular focus on individuals with high barriers to employment — this includes people who are homeless, individuals experiencing reentry after incarceration, at-risk youth and veterans. Yet the metrics used to track performance, while legislatively mandated, were more broadly focused on the overall number of individuals placed in a job. Customer segmentation helped us identify and characterize the highest-priority populations — individuals with significant barriers to employment — and then develop more customized metrics that go beyond statutory requirements to determine how well the agency was serving each of these groups.
“Journey mapping revealed, for example, that to reach individuals experiencing homelessness with services, we needed to address transportation barriers that prevented them from participating in job support and other programming. Similarly, we were able to see how critical it was to complement job skills training with child-care support, so that single parents weren’t excluded from these services.” – Swati Chandra, FUSE Executive Fellow with Los Angeles County
We started by breaking down program enrollments, job training participants and job placements into various target population segments. This exercise yielded some important insights, namely that aggregate metrics looking at overall job placements were obscuring weaknesses in reaching the specific individuals the agency wanted to reach. In the aggregate, the data showed the agency was meeting its job placement goals. Customer segmentation revealed a more nuanced reality.
USE JOURNEY MAPPING TO IDENTIFY BARRIERS
Before any outreach campaign, consumer marketers research and build detailed personality profiles of each of their customer segments based on available data. These “personas” are then validated with market research. The goal is to better understand the respective customer segments — their demographics, consumer behaviors AND attitudes — so that product or service delivery, messaging and marketing can be catered to their specific needs and preferences.
Once these personas are developed, the next step is often a technique called “journey mapping,” which maps how customers are using certain products or services and what barriers, if any, exist. In collaboration with FUSE, I conducted a workshop to introduce the approach to the team at WDACS. Journey mapping revealed, for example, that to reach individuals experiencing homelessness with services, we needed to address transportation barriers that prevented them from participating in job support and other programming. Similarly, we were able to see how critical it was to complement job skills training with child-care support, so that single parents weren’t excluded from these services.
Once barriers have been identified and steps have been taken to address them, it’s important to gather feedback to see if interventions are working as intended. For example, we established a new customer survey with SurveyMonkey to gather feedback from our American Job Centers and community and senior centers after using journey mapping to develop more customer-centric programming. Our net promoter score — a widely used measure of customer satisfaction — was above 70, a high score that validated the programming changes that had been made based on journey mapping.
CONNECT THE DOTS BETWEEN DISPARATE DATA POINTS
Individual data points can paint a fuller picture of progress when they are connected. We developed cloud-based dashboards, utilizing tools like IBM Cognos Analytics and Microsoft Power BI, that allowed WDACS teams to track program performance and share real-time data internally and with external partners. But some of the most meaningful insights emerged when we started to connect disparate pieces of data.
One of WDACS’s first dashboards measured the performance of the agency’s workforce program, which helps individuals find and retain a job. We created a “funnel” that showed people’s progression through WDACS’ pipeline of services. But instead of looking at each metric associated with that program individually, we drew connections between them. For example, we looked at how many job trainings were conducted at various training centers alongside the number of associated job placements and wages paid. This helped the agency identify which training centers were most effective, which in turn enabled it to direct more funding to centers that were successfully preparing people for the workforce. The agency is now working to build even more connections between data points, such as job placement and retention rates. By examining data points in conjunction with other data points, we were able to glean more information about our programming than if we had looked at them in isolation.
These three commonly used marketing practices — customer segmentation, journey mapping and analyzing metrics in tandem with one another — helped WDACS better measure the effectiveness of its programming for the highest-priority customer segments, identify barriers to uptake and understand the interplays between disparate services. Ultimately, they helped the agency develop better performance metrics that more accurately measured the long-term outcomes it is working toward.
Swati Chandra is a FUSE Executive Fellow who has worked with Los Angeles County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) in their COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. She has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing and general management and holds an MBA in finance from The Wharton School of Business and a B.S. in statistics from Delhi University.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Elvert Barnes