The Orange County New Americans Campaign partners have been developing a new model for large citizenship group processing workshops that they shared with colleagues from across the country in August. Noticeably absent from the naturalization workshop that concluded the New Americans Campaign’s 2019 national conference were those long, long, lines of waiting attendees. To understand what changed, we caught up with Jorge Hermosillo, who serves as a Citizenship Coordinator for OCCORD. We also asked Sarah Letson, Senior Manager of Innovation & Learning for the New Americans Campaign, to share her insights. 

Question:  Jorge, describe what was new at the citizenship application workshop this year.

Jorge Hermosillo: It began with an idea that we had two or three years ago when we were planning a mega citizenship fair and expecting about 500 people. We were talking about what the floor plan would look like, and we knew there were going to be about a 150 to 200 volunteers for the 500 people that were coming and the old model was to have applicants go from station to station.  One of our legal partners, Farida Chehata from CAIR, planted the seed in our heads. She said, that’s way too many applicants to be moving around, you should think about not moving them from station to station. So my colleague Anahi Romo, and I decided to change up the floor plan and have the volunteers go to the applicants instead of the applicants going to the volunteers.

Jorge Hermosillo, Citizenship Coordinator at OCCORD
(Photo courtesy of Jorge Hermosillo)

Anahi and I were very good at brainstorming ideas, because before we started working here, we were volunteers. When you volunteer you see things that organizers of the event don’t see. The organizer of the event is running around doing all of these things: trying to coordinate the volunteers, trying to coordinate the applicants. But as a volunteer you sit there for a long time, observing everyone and having one-on-one conversations with applicants. So you understand how long they’ve been waiting.

We were able to see that people were getting lost. We would do our best to explain to them what to do, but some people come to these events very scared and very confused because when they hear “citizenship,” they think “immigration.” On top of that, we’re telling them, “After you complete this registration process, then you’re going to go over to this station, then you’re going to go to that station and then you have to go over here and then you’re going to go over there and get this paperwork.” That just becomes too much for them. They would get up and walk around and forget what station they were on. It made more sense to us to have the volunteers move, because we have trained them. So that’s how the whole idea started. So this became our model.

Question: Sarah, how did Coleman Associates become involved in this process?

Sarah Letson, New Americans Campaign Senior Manager of Innovation & Learning (Photo by Sarah Letson)

Sarah Letson: Coleman Associates are experts in process re-design, focused on community health centers. We saw striking parallels between our naturalization group processing work and the process challenges that clinics face, so we decided to engage Coleman Associates to work with us. Beginning in the summer of 2018, we contracted with them to provide a ten-month Dramatic Performance Improvement™ (DPI) program for NAC partners in three sites, Dallas, New York City, and Orange County, to help them re-design naturalization application assistance group processing workshops and provide a better experience for applicants, staff and volunteers alike. Coleman Associates worked with the three sites, including the Orange County NAC, to develop new models to test as well as attending their naturalization workshops to provide on-site coaching. 

Question: Jorge, How did you go about implementing the new model?

Jorge Hermosillo: I had experience as a server. So I thought, why can’t we do it like at a restaurant? The host has the tables, and knows which tables are seated and what tables have not been seated and lets the servers know, “Hey, your table was just seated.” So we took that same concept and the “host” would tell the legal volunteers, “Table one was just seated and they need an eligibility screening.” Then they would hand the volunteer the table number and the volunteer would find the table and have a consultation with the applicant.

In Orange County last August, the large and busy citizenship workshop is color-coded and easy to read. (Photo by Shelly Erceg)

In restaurants there is a progression, appetizer, dinner, and dessert, so that the host knows at what point the party is in their meal and when the table will turn over. They can tell the people waiting in line, “Hey, a table will be available in 30 minutes.”  We took that same concept and applied it to the workshop. Once you were done with appetizers, AKA eligibility, the volunteer would go back to our “command center,” which is the host, and say, “I just finished eligibility,” and then the host would know this applicant is ready for a different volunteer who is trained to help complete the N-400. Then they would repeat the process until the applicant got through quality control, which is the final legal review by an attorney or DOJ accredited representative and the last phase in completing the application. Then the applicant would stand up and finally make their way towards checkout and packaging and then the exit.

Workers in the command center direct volunteers to clients at waiting tables.
(Photo by Shelly Erceg)

Question: Did the other partners in Dallas and New York go about this process differently? 

Volunteers wait to be called on for their expertise. (Photo by Shelly Erceg)

Sarah Letson: In each of the three sites, each team of organizations worked closely with Coleman Associates to collaboratively re-design the way they run naturalization workshops to be faster, better, and less costly. All three sites had a goal of shortening the cycle time for applicants and improving the experience for participants, staff, and volunteers alike. Sites also had goals around ensuring applicants came to workshops prepared with the documents and information they needed. The partners shared ideas with each other within and across pilot sites, and there are ongoing chances for all NAC partners to learn from their experiences. The new model that emerged is a fundamental change in the structure of how workshops are run and the models that all three sites developed have common elements.

The typical “station model” that most NAC partners currently use has applicants move between four to six different stations where staff and volunteers complete a different step in the application completion process (e.g., screening, form filling, legal review, etc.). With the help of Coleman Associates’ process, the new model allows applicants to stay comfortably seated while different volunteers and staff sit with them in sequence—similar to the customer experience in an Apple Store, for example. This change allows for a dramatically different applicant, volunteer, and staff experience as well as reduced cycle times. We anticipate that this will lead to more satisfied citizenship applicants and volunteers who will spread the word widely about the excellent service, thus increasing the ability to help more lawful permanent residents apply for citizenship.

Volunteers move between the tables, while clients stay seated. (Photo by Shelly Erceg)

Question: Was it helpful to work with design consultants?

Jorge Hermosillo: Coleman and Associates sent a representative out to observe us at an earlier workshop and they supported our idea and gave us tips on what to do. They suggested that we keep track of the in and out times. That was a good idea, tracking the applicants’ total time so that we could compare.

Question: Are you happy with how the new model worked at the conference?

Jorge Hermosillo: I was very happy. We loved it and we want to do it again. The volunteers loved it. I literally got zero complaints from anybody. There were a few hiccups. The only thing that was difficult was that the volunteers, who at our workshop in August 2019 came from NAC organizations all over the country, are so used to doing it one way that it was sometimes hard for them to remember to take the table number back to the command center. Those are things little things I want to fix. But overall our average wait time was two-and-a-half or three hours. Before, we would have people there from nine until five. I want to perfect the model more, because it is still a little messy. And I want to document it, so that if anybody else comes in they won’t feel so helpless. The floor plan is complicated and had a lot of moving parts. It has to be simple and it has to be effective. I always use my NASA example: they say if we’re going to send something into space, it has to be simple. It can’t have 10 different switching gears because if one thing breaks, then the whole thing breaks. And that’s my thinking; I need to make it very simple so that this can be picked up anywhere.

The process was smooth and volunteers and clients, alike, were smiling. (Photo by Shelly Erceg)

Question: Sarah, what are your thoughts about the results of this workshop?

The workshop at the NAC conference provided an opportunity for experiential learning for our NAC partners who came here from all over the country. This kind of hands-on learning is a powerful tool for encouraging replication. For the project overall, initial results show a 20-30% reduction in the average amount of time that it takes people to complete their applications in all three sites. The idle waiting time that applicants traditionally spent between stations was eliminated. We will have final results later this year, including any metrics gathered on volunteer satisfaction and applicant preparedness.  We are excited to introduce this improved model to all NAC partners. We hope it will be replicated widely.