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“Helping children Get Healthy Meals at School”

United States Office of Personnel Management, Innovation Lab

United States Department of Agriculture: Food and Nutrition Service, National School Lunch Program


These award winners have acronym-heavy names, so I’ll explain who they are and what they do first, before I give you the abbreviations!


The Innovation Lab at the US Office of Personnel Management (The Lab at OPM) serves as the federal expert hub, teaching and applying human-centered design across US government agencies to deliver innovative solutions that help solve complex public and cross-sector challenges.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) operates the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to 30 million children living at, or below the poverty level, each school day.


This initiative focused on the end to end process of applying for reduced or free lunches, and the FNS agency reimbursement back to schools for providing the meals. On the parent/caregiver’s side, the application process was very challenging, leaving out children that needed access to healthy meals. On the FNS’s side, there was a potential of 1.8billion dollars in improper payments going back to schools.


The Lab at OPM and the FNS teamed up and reviewed existing applications, policies, and guidance documents. Their contextual inquires uncovered insights into the unique experiences, systemic challenges, and unmet needs that hindered parents from enrolling in this essential program.


You can imagine that an initiative in a program that serves millions of students would drive significant financial and social impact.

  • The project is expected to save $600 million dollars by the 2019/2020 school year.
  • The new application will improve children’s access to this critical government service. To note, it improved access to all children, regardless of ethnicity.
  • And it empowered members of the USDA to solve other challenging problems using Human Centered Design processes.

At a time when discourse in the United States often criticizes misuse of federal funds, the OPM, FNS and USDA are using Human Centered Design processes to address all stakeholders, provide the most streamlined and accessible user experience for all citizens, and save federal funds at the same time.



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