Xin Hui Lim
A speculative service concept that delivers health and social services to rural populations through USPS infrastructure.
Developed as an experiential futures concept, USPS+ hybridizes the role of local mail carriers, who have established long term relationships with residents, and community health workers, who are experienced in providing basic care to local populations, to keep vulnerable populations meaningfully connected to health and social resources.
Throughout the project, we divided the tasks up between the five of us, but I was also in charge of creating the team’s final print deliverables.
View the pamphlet here.
The USPS is the largest postal network in the world, delivering mail to every household in America 6 days a week.
In recent years, the USPS has experienced a plethora of policy changes and economic stressors. Government mandates to prepay health benefits to future employees, a decrease in letter delivery and lack of avenues to generate revenue has pushed the postal service into significant debt. This has resulted in the suspension and closure of thousands of post offices, many of which are in rural areas.
Through this project, our group sought to answer the question, “How can the USPS leverage its infrastructure network, explore new avenues for revenue generation, while upholding its mission of serving communities?”
Contextualizing the Impact of the Postal Service
As an entry point into understanding the place based nature of how post office closures impact a neighbourhood, we participated in a walking tour of Homewood, a Pittsburgh neighbourhood that recently saw the closure and suspension of two local post offices.
Ideation using the Postal Matrix
With greater contextual insight into the postal network, we used a ‘Postal Matrix’ framework to collaboratively explore possible interventions to revitalise the postal service. Potential systems components, such as postal workers, mailboxes and mail trucks, were listed on the x axis. Domains for innovation, such as health, food and workforce development, fell on the y axis.
Following this ideation exercise, our team decided to focus on innovation within the medical domain, which subsequently led to the development our first concept pitch for a service known as ‘MediPost’ which specializes in delivering preventative healthcare to communities.
MediPost proposed a 2-tier approach to serve its mission. Firstly, the USPS infrastructure would be used to deliver up-to-date and accurate information on preventative health to every community. Secondly, MediPost sought to offer a community driven local hub for low-cost wellness visits.
We created a service blueprint to aid our understanding of how the user’s experience and Medipost’s operational infrastructure might be guided by touchpoints such as introductory door hangers and appointment setting postcards.
Following our initial concept pitch, we used Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Hats’ parallel thinking tool to decide how to move forward with developing our service. The ‘Six Hats’ tool allowed us to better evaluate our gut instincts, emotions, service strengths and weaknesses, and missing considerations.
The tool helped to guide us on a research sprint that would eventually prompt a shift in focus to delivering rural based community services through Medicare insurance programs.
During our research phase, we had the
to talk to experts familiar with the rural health domain. An insight that stood out to us the most was how American healthcare is becoming increasingly integrated with overall wellness by addressing the social determinants of health such as family support and access to transportation.
In response to such demands, a new model of healthcare has emerged, where community health workers are tasked with reaching out to community members and connecting them to care managers, who are able to better able to assess individual health and wellbeing needs and provide access to relevant resources.
We were able to see how the underutilized postal network could facilitate this support infrastructure. Coupled with a Medicaid funding stream whereby healthcare providers are reimbursed for services provided to the Medicaid client base, we saw this as possible revenue stream for the USPS. Medicaid could provide funding for postal workers who take on the role of community health workers, pay for training costs and upgrade post office infrastructure into a call centre.
Ideation and Iteration
We developed storyboards that follow the journeys of rural resident personas that address how the service might be used to provide social, healthcare and mental health related support.
Walking our peers through our journeys helped us better understand where there were gaps in our service. Some questions we posed when refining our ideas included:
1. Perceptions of Trust: The USPS is a highly trusted brand; how might this partnership shift perceptions of trust and government?
2. Quality over Efficiency: How might we highlight how slowing down and delivering more value to each home is preferential to delivering to as many households as possible?
3. Workforce Logistics: How might the shift in workforce requirements be rolled out? How might we design and frame this shift to account for existing postal workers who might not be a good fit for community health workers? Are we retraining or recruiting new workers or both?
4. Validating Funding Partnership: How do we validate this concept through the eyes of a funding partner?
5. Data: How might this model find ways to stay connected to the wellbeing of residents through data collection?
Places & Postal Networks Forum
We presented at the Places & Postal Networks Forum as members of the USPS+ team from the year 2029, situating ourselves at a ‘promotional pop up booth’ in Greene County where attendees could interact with our artefacts and ask us questions about the service.