Collaborating to Improve Unemployment Insurance

Jun 06, 2022

Unemployment insurance (UI) modernization has been a hot topic since millions of Americans had to apply for unemployment benefits—many for the first time—using largely archaic, complex, and unstable state systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states and the federal government have known for years that these systems were vulnerable and needed a refresh: 24 states began or completed modernization projects for their UI benefits and tax systems between 2000 and 2021, with varying levels of success, and federal money has been going out the door specifically for such projects since 2009, when Congress passed the UI Modernization Act.

Unfortunately, even “modernized” systems completely fell over during the pandemic. Expert organizations have published valuable playbooks and resources to help address key problems with these systems (e.g. lack of human centered design, no user testing before launch, etc), and I encourage folks to check those out if you want to get into the weeds of better UI tech or learn from UI as a case study in how federal programs are implemented at the state/territory level.

As part of my work with the Intergovernmental Software Collaborative at the Beeck Center, I wanted to look at improving UI tech through the lens of collaboration between jurisdictions – between peer (state/territorial) governments as well as between the federal Department of Labor and states/territories. I found three promising pathways for collaboration that already have some precedent to learn from and build on: consortia, federal shared services, and communities of practice.

Read the white paper to learn more about each of these approaches.

Tl;dr? Here are some key takeaways:

  • Let outcomes and user research drive the collaborative project/product (duh)
  • Feds should invest in open shared services and shared knowledge
  • Communities of practice of state practitioners are incredibly valuable when invested in and proactively managed
Header image attribution: "Compass: Collaboration 03/27/2015" by Carolyn Hall Young is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.