Page Design That Improves Economic Mobility

In my series on page layout, I argue that documents are a core product for public sector marketers. That makes page layout a key skill for making those products useful and powerful. Empathways in Boston has developed the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency, a proven program to help women build greater upward economic mobility.

Central to the transition process is a single piece of paper laid out using a five-column template. As described in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article, this simple paper tool

“allows participants and staff members to see—all at once—a summary of the challenges that participants face, the interconnections between those challenges, and potential remedies. The Bridge scaffold serves as a problem-solving, organizational, and memory-aid tool in much the same way that others might use a written list or a software application to help them track their to-do items. The primary difference is that the Bridge is designed to organize the tasks that are most important for moving out of poverty and to display them visually on a single page.”

Five Years of Growing Economic Mobility

In five years of offering this document and the services it supports, Empathways has seen their clients living in public housing graduate from community college at more than twice the rate of other community college students in the Boston area. Those program participants also put aside, on average, three times as much savings as the typical member of a low-income American household. Nearly one-third of participants in the programs now hold family-sustaining jobs that pay from $45,000 to $50,000 per year.

The program has similar success with clients living in transitional homeless shelters. Within one year of introducing the Bridge, the proportion of residents who were regularly working or going to school increased from 45 percent to 80 percent. Participants with personal savings of $150 or more went from 0 percent to more than 40 percent.

Can a well-designed piece of paper save lives? Of course not, any more than a one-page recipe can cook itself. A lot of personal effort by Empathways  clients and staff went into their remarkable progress. But I believe that without a clear, concise, and compelling one-page map, their direction and progress would be far less.

Is there a procedural or informational document that you could redesign for greater impact?

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