City of Chicago

Date: Jan - Mar 2019

Team Members: Hannah Miller, Hanna Lauterbach, Haein Kim, & Abby Lammers


  • Service Design

  • User Experience Design

  • User Interface Design

  • Human Centered Design

  • User Research

  • Ideating

  • Insight Synthesis

  • Storytelling

Developing a Referral System for Residents to Easily Connect With City Services Leveraging Existing Relationships

coc dots.png
coc computer.png

The Problem

A resident will build a relationship with a government employee when using a service, but when they need help from another department, the referral process is often cold and disconnected causing the resident to not get the help they need.



Evelyn is an older woman who has lived alone in Chicago for years, but as she is getting older she needs some help getting around her apartment.

She works with Northside Community Resources, a nonprofit funded by the city, to get her apartment refurnished.


Evelyn also is now living on social security and her savings, and asks her contact at NCR if they can help her with getting groceries. 


The person at NCR gives her a flyer to a food pantry.  They don't realize that Evelyn only had the confidence to ask this person for help because they had spent so much time working together. She doesn't follow through with the city funded food pantry. 


The Solution

Develop a system that allows service providers to easily connect with each other and make a personalized referral to the resident in a way that keeps the first service provider involved.

What we can learn from Evelyn's story

Service providers on the ground oftentimes build really strong bonds with the residents they serve, and they are good at maintaining these relationships

Utilize the existing relationships service providers have with residents to create new connections with other service providers

Service providers don't have an effective way to work between each other and don't know what other departments do unless the two departments constantly do work with the same populations

Build connections between service providers and increase awareness of what tasks other services can provide around the common goal of helping a resident

Residents often times experience uncertainty when interacting with service providers because of confusion as to what service does what 

Put less responsibility on the resident to know the correct agency and make it easier for them to build relationships with service providers

page 1.JPG

Looking back at the situation with Evelyn, instead of just handing out a flyer to a food pantry, the service provider at Northside Community Resources could use this database to look up a potential service located in a specific neighborhood that would be easiest for Evelyn.


The system would then allow him to contact a real person working at the food pantry to confirm that they can help with Evelyn's problem. The person from NCR can then introduce Evelyn to the person at the food pantry over a phone call or email providing more of a personal connection.

page 3.JPG
page 4.JPG

With Evelyn's permission the food pantry representative now updates the original request from NCR. NCR now knows that Evelyn’s needs were met.

evelyn alone.JPG

The person at the food pantry is then able to work with Evelyn to help meet the specifics of her needs that the service provider from NCR might not have known about. This also helps her build a relationship with another service provider and build trust with someone else in government.

Service Provider 2.JPG

Finding the Right Problem


Our biggest challenge in this process was scoping the initial problem. The initial prompt for the project was to:

Design a welcome service for new residents moving to Chicago, focusing on the service providers

Our entire class was working together on this welcoming service.  My team specifically focused on the service providers.

In the City of Chicago, there are 33 departments, 29 sister agencies, and hundreds of nonprofits that are funded by and work closely with the city. This was a huge space to try and tackle, so in order to narrow it down, we chose several departments that might be more relevant to new residents than others and made stakeholder maps for each.


By looking through reviews of services and government websites, we found that many of the departments are interconnected and yet see themselves as very separate from other services.


To learn more, we interviewed someone from each of the services we had identified and users who had used those services. From that, we developed several journey maps of people's interactions.

coc pt31.png

Through these interviews, we found that there was an issue with communicating with residents, especially new ones because they often times had the most cross-departmental needs.

We continued to interview and shadow service providers to get a better understanding of the problem and found that service providers that interact mainly with citizens are really good at building tight local networks. We then looked into that idea to see if we could leverage that relationship to increase awareness about certain programs.

This led us to the solution presented above. However, we wanted to make sure that what we pitched was realistic, so we broke it down into 3 potential ways to roll out this solution.



In the short term, the city can change the process from giving a resident the name of the department or agency; to finding a contact person with the current City of Chicago website and have a more personal introduction like a cc'ed email or group phone call.

icon running.png


This is the solution described earlier where we develop a database for service providers to look up other service providers. This would allow the referral process to be made faster than in the step version. It would also allow us to collect data on what services are needed in tandem and get a better understanding of when users need specific services.


Finally, service providers could potentially use this system to reach out to residents who have shown vested interest in certain topics to other service providers. By allowing services to introduce each other to residents, they could have a better outreach process for special events

Big thanks to both the full studio working with the city and my team!