Delivering public services faster with easy-to-navigate policy content.
Using Adobe RoboHelp, the state of Vermont’s Economic Services Division delivers up-to-date, easy-to-use SNAP policy manuals for its 3SquaresVT program.
Reduce the time and effort to develop and update complex policy manuals
Simplify experiences for benefit program specialists
Produce faster, more regular updates for the manual
Automated process of numbering pages and topics for 400-page manual with 300 topics Achieved 35% reduction in benefit program specialist staff time searching for correct information, speeding service delivery to residents
Reduced inquiries that Food & Nutrition team receives from benefit program specialists by 46%
Achieved the capability to update manuals more frequently and efficiently
Moving policy manuals from binders to the web
The state of Vermont’s version of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 3SquaresVT, helps ensure that Vermonters can put healthy meals on their tables. The program is supported by a dedicated Food & Nutrition team which is tasked with communicating often-changing federal policies and guidelines to the benefit of in-house program specialists across the state’s Economic Services Division.
Originally, the team delivered hard copies of Vermont-related SNAP policy changes to about 200 employees in 12 district offices and one call center. The time needed to review, issue, and disseminate printed versions of the legal policy updates versions was lengthy. Benefit program specialists rely heavily on having easy to access and understand resources to process applications and assess benefit eligibility for Vermonters.
To reduce the time and expense of this paper- and labor-intensive approach, the state’s Food & Nutrition team collaborated with a contractor in 2015 to create an online policy manual. The contractor chose to output the content in Adobe RoboHelp, the preferred solution for publishing the policy manual.
Outputting their content to Adobe RoboHelp enabled the team’s program specialists to manage policy updates from a central location. Still, they knew that learning to maximize the usage of RoboHelp by upgrading their software and authoring directly into the application would let them oversee every aspect of a heavily detailed, ongoing project without turning to contractors. They issued an RFP to find a partner that would enable the state to realize more benefits from the Adobe application.
“We knew that our team’s expertise and the power of omnichannel publishing supported by Adobe RoboHelp could be a winning combination,” says Aletha Cross, Food & Nutrition Administrator. “Finding a partner to train us in Adobe RoboHelp was essential in keeping ahead of rapidly changing policy and better serving Vermont’s vulnerable communities.”
Streamlining complex workflows
The search for a partner led the team to Lightext to act as an implementation and consulting partner to train the staff in RoboHelp software, establish a prototype and convert the content. Once the content was converted and published, Lightext continued to support the team post-conversion through lead trainings and technical support meetings for RoboHelp.
Under the prior use of RoboHelp, program specialists developed and edited two content versions of Microsoft Word, one for internal and one for external audiences, and then ingested documents to RoboHelp. Making updates involved opening individual Word files and searching for the right topic or place in the text. This time-consuming process was further complicated by the number of stakeholders involved in each content change. Whenever the USDA issues updates to the SNAP program, the 3SquaresVT program undergoes an internal review process with legal teams, policy analysts, as well as the Food & Nutrition team. Using condition tags, Lightext created a method of using RoboHelp as a single source for both outputs. Now updates are only made to a single source for a dual purpose.
“We immediately saw that with a more straightforward approach using Adobe RoboHelp, the Vermont team could create high-quality, complex policy documents for federal programs much faster — which would clearly benefit their program specialists and citizens,” says Beth Gerber, Owner and President of Lightext.
Given the complex update, review, and approval, Lightext suggested authoring content directly in Adobe RoboHelp for greater speed and convenience, especially with incremental edits. Instead of maintaining multiple Word documents, program specialists go straight to RoboHelp, check out the content they are responsible for updating, and then check that content back in once they’re done.
This new approach cuts six hours from the manual creation process, enabling the team to make updates in five minutes. With a 7,200% reduction in the time to prepare the manual, the team can share updates more regularly. A faster workflow allows the team to consistently make incremental edits and release revised versions of the manual roughly each quarter.
Adobe RoboHelp also resolves the complicated, labor-intensive numbering format for pages and topics included in all federal policy manuals. Before adopting RoboHelp, team members had to painstakingly add these numbers to a 400-page manual encompassing over 300 topics in Word. Now, through the style formats available in RoboHelp, they automate the numbering processes for pages and topics.
“Adobe RoboHelp transforms even the most intricate, technical tasks and makes them much easier,” says Emily Hammond, Food & Nutrition Assistant Administrator. “The ease of working within Adobe RoboHelp empowers us to bring greater clarity to everything we do, from publishing an update to thinking about the best ways of presenting policy.”
“Adobe RoboHelp transforms even the most intricate, technical tasks and makes them much easier. The ease of working within Adobe RoboHelp empowers us to bring greater clarity to everything we do, from publishing an update to thinking about the best ways of presenting policy.”
Food & Nutrition Assistant Administrator, State of Vermont
Enhancing collaboration and user experiences
With a smarter content creation process in place using RoboHelp, the team can effectively utilize more effort on delivering better experiences for end users, especially benefit program specialists.
The benefit program specialists often correspond with residents in urgent need, yet searching hundreds of pages in a heavy binder took hours. Before Lightext coached the team in refining the online manual in RoboHelp, benefit program specialists often hunted through a link-heavy global glossary or jumped between various tables to find the right information.
To enhance the searchability of the policy content, the team added conditional tags, expanded text, and dropdowns that put the latest policy updates at the benefit program specialists’ fingertips. Since every policy update, no matter how small, is now stored and searchable in a consolidated version of the manual, benefit program specialists are likelier to use the manual than hard copies of policies — reducing staff time spent finding information by 35 percent and leading to faster application processing.
“Every policy change used to make our colleagues’ jobs more complicated, but the ease of using Adobe RoboHelp lets them focus more on serving citizens with the most accurate information,” says Cross. “Building a better policy manual in Adobe RoboHelp also builds better relationships with our state government colleagues.”
Giving the benefit program specialists navigation tools that feel as intuitive as typing a term into a web search engine drew overwhelmingly positive feedback at state-wide trainings and information sessions led by the Food & Nutrition team with support from Lightext. As benefit program specialists grow confident in navigating the manual in RoboHelp, they don’t have to contact the Food & Nutrition team with policy questions as often.
In the two-year period before releasing the new manual in RoboHelp, the team fielded about 1,584 policy inquiries, requiring nearly 200 hours of work annually. Two years after launching the manual, the number of inquiries dropped to 842, a decrease of over 46%. With the availability of an updated, robust manual, the team only spends 14 hours a year responding to questions from colleagues — increasing their efficiency by 93%.
“Every policy change used to make our colleagues’ jobs more complicated, but the ease of using Adobe RoboHelp lets them focus more on serving citizens with the most accurate information.”
Food & Nutrition Administrator, State of Vermont
Effective, transparent public service
No matter what their individual tasks might be, team members across the state’s Economic Services Division are committed to connecting eligible Vermonters with the right social services.
This work occurs person to person, whenever a benefit program specialist uses a search feature in RoboHelp to address a resident’s question or assess eligibility in real-time, instead of potentially taking days to find the best response. The easier-to-use manual better equips program specialists to take on more complex cases and potentially help more residents.
Educating citizens and community partners about policy is also an essential part of the Economic Services Division’s mission, so the team also develops a public-facing version of the benefits manual. RoboHelp enables team members to easily tag content and make it shareable for general audiences or internal users only. With a few simple clicks, the team can delete material specific to benefit support specialists and generate an appropriate, easily searchable public manual for the community.
Residents now have the freedom to search the public-facing manual if they would prefer the ease of that over waiting to speak to an eligibility specialist through the call center. “When Lightext showed us how to work effectively in Adobe RoboHelp, we gained a powerful resource for serving our communities,” says Cross. “Adobe RoboHelp doesn’t just help us work faster, it shows residents that we care about meeting their needs as quickly as we can.”