How to improve a government form (part 2)
If you’re just joining us, you might want to read yesterday’s post, “How to improve a government form (part 1),” that introduces the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services’s new JFS 84221 form.
As mentioned yesterday, something good about the new JFS form is that it’s in Microsoft Word format and set up as a fillable form. However, it seems that the fine folks at JFS could learn a thing or two about fillable forms in Word.
Also as mentioned yesterday, a challenge with the JFS 84221 form is having it competed in accordance with the government’s rules. One challenge in particular is correctly completing the “Number of people in househodl by age” section. Each age group must be completed; if a household has no members in a range, that group may not be left blank but instead must have “0” or “--” in it (nothing else is acceptable, not “none” or “N/A” or “X”). In addition, the total field must be filled in, and correctly (you might be surprised, or then again you might not, how many people cannot add).
“Number of people in household by age” section
as designed by JFS with dumb fields
What the JFS seems not to have realized (or perhaps they did but chose not to implement—more on that below) is that in Word all the above problems can be solved. Want to make sure that a field is always completed or has a default value? Want to do a total automatically? Word can do that!
To tell Word what you want to do, right-click on each of the fields to be changed (after you unprotect the document—see yesterday’s post to see how) and change the properties as shown below.
Properties for the total field
Properties for the age range fields
For each of the age range fields:
- Change the type to “Number”
- Set the default number to “0”
- In “Bookmark” give the field a meaningful name (this makes the total equation easier to understand)
- Check the “Calculate on exit” box
For the total field:
- Change the type to “Calculation”
- Change the expression to “=Number60+Number18+NumberBirth” (these field names should be whatever you used above)
Presto! You now have a JFS 84221 in Word that has household fields that cannot be left blank, filled in with anything but numbers or totaled incorrectly.
“Number of people in household by age” section updated with smart fields
There is one challenge with this updated form, which may well be the reason that JFS chose not to implement these features—if you print this form without filing anything in, you’ll get a hardcopy with “0” in each of the household fields, making it unsuitable for someone to complete by hand. If you need blank forms for people to write on, you’ll want the original form (or yesterday’s form that eliminates the temptation to sign in the wrong box).
However, something I’ve learned while managing Cross Creek’s Feeding Friends food pantry, is that you really don’t want to let clients fill out forms on their own. The rules for filling out the forms correctly are complicated, leaving you with the choices of pedantically making clients fill out new forms to correct mistakes (something that I see as disrespectful and that takes too long) or of having intake volunteers fill out the forms as they interview clients.
So why did I bother with improving JFS’s fillable form? Because, with the introduction of this new JFS 84221 form that takes effect in July, we’re going to have every single one of our clients complete new forms next month. To make that manageable, I and other Feeding Friends volunteers are going to use the new fillable form to enter our existing recent clients’s data, so the clients, unless they’ve had some change in address or household, won’t be bothered next month with completing new forms. They’ll each get a nice new form, pre-printed with their information, to sign (inside the “Signature” box).
Those of you who are savvy about Foodbank Dayton might well be asking, “Well what about the Virtual Case Manager software that was demonstrated at a recent Miami Valley Hunger Coalition meeting? If you were using that, wouldn’t you avoid all this hassle?” Maybe so, and I have some opinions about that, which I’ll share in another post.