Award-worthy Innovation at PHFE WIC

When do you know whether a solution warrants a term like “game-changer” or “innovator”? What factors contribute to raw innovation? When it comes to social innovation that leads to improved quality-of-life for low-income families, our PHFE WIC program has the formula down.

Leadership + Teamwork + Creativity + Drive = Results

Last week, our PHFE WIC program IT director, Mike Whaley, won a Leadership Award at the 2018 National WIC Association Education and Training Conference in Chicago. Dr. Shannon Whaley (no relation to Mike by blood or matrimony), Director of Research and Evaluation at PHFE WIC, officially nominated Mike and presented the award for his leadership in developing several applications. Here’s an excerpt from her speech:

Mike is not your usual IT guy. In his 16 years with WIC, Mike has taken PHFE WIC to new heights through his development of user-friendly databases that maximize the WIC Program’s ability to connect with participants. And not just for PHFE WIC families. Mike’s creations support over 40 local agencies in California, as well as multiple other states, including Washington, New Mexico, and Georgia.

For example, in the early days of Peer Counseling funding, Mike quickly realized how difficult it was for our new peer counselors (PCs) to case manage the women they were supporting. Within months he developed a prototype for a Peer Counseling Database (PCDB) and within a year all PHFE WIC sites with PCs were using the system. Within three years, the California WIC program made the PCDB available to all California Local Agencies who received PC funds. Soon after, the PCDB went on the road to Washington, New Mexico, Louisiana, Georgia, and two Indian tribal organizations, where it continues to support peer counseling services to thousands of women.

After receiving the award, Mike returned to PHFE WIC headquarters with a few things to say about the real recipients of the award—his team:

Honestly, all of these things are such team efforts. I will grant that I am unusual (weird might be a better description), but it is the PHFE WIC culture that is the real star here. This is the most hard-working team I have ever been associated with. And they fully and completely embrace change; few are stuck in a rut and unwilling to make changes. They generate suggestions and ideas so fast it is amazing. Much of this is due to the trust senior managers have in each other and the feeling that we are all pulling in the same direction.

Here’s more from Shannon’s nomination speech, which highlights Mike’s leadership and the team’s hard work:

Here at PHFE WIC, Mike has transformed staff’s ability to provide high-quality customer service when they walk in the door, over the phone, and through online education.

•  Live in the WIC site: Most recently, Mike’s focus has been on participant retention and identifying the factors more likely to put a client at risk of not returning to WIC. Factors identified include things like missing a previous appointment, not cashing their WIC vouchers, formula feeding and enrolling in WIC postpartum. Mike is now published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior with these findings. On the front lines, a database system Mike created helps staff identify very quickly any risk factors that put a client at risk for discontinuing their WIC services so that the live counseling can focus very specifically on the problems they may be having with the program.

•  Over the phone: Mike created a database that supports calling and texting WIC participants, not only to remind them of an upcoming appointment, but to follow-up after a missed appointment. Most recently, his system enabled interactive texting such that staff in the administrative office can interactively text clients to solve problems and help bring them in for services. PHFE WIC now sends over 250,000 texts/month and texts interactively with over 25,000 participants/month.

•  Online: Mike created a platform for the delivery of online education such that all clients can log in, enter their WIC ID, and take high quality nutrition education online. The system automatically generates a report back to front line staff, documenting which class was completed and when. When participants then come in for services, staff can see the nutrition education has been completed, can ask follow up questions about the class, and the WIC visit is a little shorter. About 30,000 PHFE WIC participants a month now access this system.

As Mike reflects on how solutions unfold in real-time, he breaks it down like this:

“The usual situation is that a group discusses some business problem, tossing around ideas. I may turn that into some software tool prototype, which we all discuss, fix, and improve and then, we build a process and system. A group may head out to do a training for 600 employees, building documentation, sometimes buying various things, and then feedback pours in and we all fix, improve, and rework it. We massage the process until it works.”

So there you have it: the formula for innovation at PHFE WIC, and true leadership in action.