Mothers Together.

Helping low-income expecting mothers co-design a future away from poverty.


for Allegheny County Department of Human Service (DHS)


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2 days



Robert Santamaria
Edie Godwin
(both in the School of Public Policy)

My Primary Role

Design Research / Visual Design


Literature Review
Persona Study
Journey Mapping
Visual Design


DHS Local Government Case Competition / First Place (2017)


The Challenge

Envision a future in which government aid is distributed in the form of cash.


The Outcome

A pilot program for low-income expecting mothers to receive stable financial and social support during their first three years of motherhood.


Cohort-based and One-on-One System

Mothers together provides two ways for mothers to earn cash – through accomplishing personal goals and supporting fellow new mothers.

The case manager in Mothers Together will be overlooking the program and support both efforts as needed.

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Key Facts about Mothers Together

  • Cohort-based conditional cash transfer program

  • For expecting mothers living in poverty who aren’t qualified for federal aid but have high risk for falling to severe poverty with additional childcare cost (135% –150% poverty line)

  • Distribute cash via debit card

  • 3-year pilot, 500 women

  • Total cost estimated around $250K – 1/4 of exist cost in Family Support

See full presentation here.


The Process

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Choosing Service Domain + Financial Framework

The case competition asked participants to choose one of the four existing DHS service domains and two types of cash transfer financial frameworks. 

After a quick literature review of public service reports and provided by DHS, we synthesized the best practices, turn them into design principles, and select the combination with the highest social impact and cost efficiency – Family Support + Conditional Cash Transfer.

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Determining Target Audience

The existing Family Support Center (FSC) System is challenged by seeing improvement in poor mother's maternal and infant health despite continuous intervention.  We see this as an opportunity for an early-stage intervention – starting and maintain engagement with pregnant mother before childbirth exacerbates their financial and social burden.

A persona study and financial analysis helped us further narrow down the demographics – expecting mothers making 136% – 150% of the federal poverty level. This demographic falls in FSC's "typical family" framework and would not be immediately eligible for federal aid due to their existing income level.



Capturing Pros & Cons of Conditional Cash Transfer

Before heading into the generative stage, we documented the pros and cons of two case studies and use them as guiding principles for the service design.

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Exploring User Journey

After quickly prototyped a few frameworks, we decided to combine two of the most promising ones: cohort-based learning and one-on-one financial habit building.

The cohort-based model addressed the high dropout of existing on-demand counseling; the one-on-one model offer capacity building and behavioral change through cash bonuses.

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Finally, we created an implementation plan to highlight the entry and exit experiences of Mothers Together.

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Addressing Feasibility & Success Measurement

As we designed the framework, we made sure to address financial feasibility and success measurement, and called out speculations to be verified had DHS decided to further develop the Mothers Together proposal. 

  • Qualitative (surveys) and quantitative (birth weight, goal attainment, etc.) measures

  • Debit Card payment to track expense habit

  • Total cost max. $250,000/mo, serving 500 mothers.

  • Challenges: cost, sample size, public perception, and participant selection



Feedback & Next Steps

The judge panel applauded by the depth and breath of design consideration in such a short time frame. However, what made our group stood out from the finalists were not the policy structure, but the human-centered design arguments embedded in all points of decision making. 

In January 2018, we will be presenting our design to funding groups, which may lead to an official process in designing a cash transfer pilot program. Once initiated, I will likely be working on stakeholder maps and a more detailed service design blueprint study.