Increasing Stakeholder Engagement for a Rapid-Growth Program

The communications challenges of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS)—a rapidly growing program with numerous stakeholders from key decision makers to program implementers—required a complete program management and communications review to ensure high-level buy-in and smooth, ground-level implementation of IT systems that support the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

Problem

USDA/FNS needed to increase understanding, use of and support for the SPIRIT (Successful Partners in Reaching Innovative Technology) management information system. Users and stakeholders did not always have the information they needed to fully understand the robust nature of the IT system, which meant that the system was underutilized and not enabling the full Return on Investment to the Government that the $7.5 million system was fully capable of providing. The SPIRIT IT system administers benefits to nearly half a million low-income participants of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

Due to its rapid growth and expansion (2,500 percent in just eight years), USDA/FNS SPIRIT system’s communications, organizational and technical infrastructure needed analysis and improvement. Some users and stakeholders reported not receiving timely information about new releases and were frustrated and confused by a perceived lack of information flow. Stakeholders, from program managers to users, expressed a desire to enhance two-way communications. As a result, a temporary moratorium on new adoptions of the system by WIC State Agencies was put in place until technical and organizational assessments could be completed to ensure future WIC requirements could be met. USDA brought in Hillmer to help identify the issues, develop a roadmap for improvements and implement a full-scale strategic outreach campaign to system users and stakeholders.

Solution

Through a comprehensive range of support, strategies and tools developed to improve communications about the IT system and its benefits (including assessing the outdated and ineffective user materials and recommending the creation of role-based documentation), Hillmer and USDA leaders greatly improved stakeholder support for the program. Hillmer also promoted and enhanced stakeholder engagement and education via the development of customized SharePoint sites that bring together hundreds of users from dozens of geographic areas in an interactive and collaborative environment.

Additionally, Hillmer developed a “gold-standard” website to inform and engage FNS’s target community about pending requests for proposals (RFPs). The website, WICTechnologyPartners.com, enables the posting of multiple RFPs, the deployment of tracking tools and a solicitation calendar, the use of customized registration processes, and the ability for users to subscribe to email alerts when new content is posted.

Processes

Through a series of extensive stakeholder interviews, Hillmer developed a strategic communications roadmap (including stakeholder engagement strategies) for USDA with actionable, short-, mid- and long-term improvement opportunities. Hillmer helped identify ineffective communication efforts that were contributing to stakeholder confusion, frustration, and ultimately, non-use of a nationwide IT system designed to help effectively get benefits to low-income program participants.

 

Work Samples

Tools/Skills

  • Content development
  • Content development, both technical and creative
  • Content management
  • Event planning and management
  • Graphic design
  • Information technology consulting
  • Media relations
  • Message development
  • Project management
  • Project/Program management
  • Social media marketing
  • Strategic communications

Stats

WICTechnologyPartners.com website traffic grew 1,500 percent since the site’s launch in December 2011 and tripled responses to RFPs resulting in increased competition and lower prices for the Government.

Accomplishment

Hillmer's approach to the communications challenges of USDA/FNS helped drive a dramatic increase in stakeholder engagement and user buy-in throughout the program. By raising team cohesiveness through unified messaging, the value of the program and participation–internally and from industry–increased. All of these efforts helped lift the efficiency and effectiveness of the WIC program and ultimately the well-being of WIC program beneficiaries.