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Access to reliable transportation is a common challenge in rural communities across the country, especially for low-income families who may have few public transit options, if any. Human services providers, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, regularly encounter this issue with the families they serve. The La Plata County (Colorado) Department of Human Services designed an innovative strategy to address this challenge and coach parents on planning and achieving their goals at the same time. Called “Mobile Coaching,” their intervention took case management “on the road” by providing rides for TANF participants to and from service providers in the community, and using the time in transit to discuss the participant’s goals.
The La Plata County team used research methods from the Learn, Innovate, Improve (LI2) framework to generate formative insights about their creative new strategy. Through this collaborative process, staff gained new perspectives about working with their participants and were able to help some families take considerable steps forward with their goals.
This case study brief offers a qualitative exploration of the La Plata County team’s innovation and experimentation efforts, documenting the perspectives of staff and program participants about Mobile Coaching. The brief describes the team’s design process and road map for change (the logic model underpinning this creative strategy), as well as their approach to prototyping and testing on a small scale. This brief is intended to highlight the La Plata County team’s experience as an example—particularly for other human services agencies in small, rural communities—for pursuing innovation and testing to solve program challenges.
Key Findings and Highlights
Through its Mobile Coaching intervention, the La Plata County team set out to accomplish two primary objectives: (1) coach program participants while transporting them to and from community service providers, and (2) connect with and strengthen relationships between TANF program staff and community services while accompanying participants on these visits. Through an iterative pilot testing process (called “road testing”), the La Plata County team:
- Gained a deeper, emotional understanding of their clients’ aspirations through Mobile Coaching interactions which took place in the less formal, more intentional setting of a vehicle (as opposed to a government office)
- Staff reported that Mobile Coaching helped some clients with participating in required TANF work-related activities and reporting their hours on a timely basis.
- The intensive nature of Mobile Coaching required advance coordination and scheduling (such as reserving a county vehicle and identifying several hours to devote to the strategy); in some cases, staff were unable to offer Mobile Coaching sessions as soon as clients wanted them.
- The La Plata County team reported that the collaborative approach to designing, testing, and refining their new strategy brought them closer together and introduced a new level of intentionality to their work.
McCay, Jonathan, Marcia France, Loretta Lujan, Vicki Maestas, and Alix Whittaker (2019). Mobile Coaching: Innovation and small-scale experimentation to better engage program participants in rural Colorado. OPRE Report #2019-45, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.