Streamlining the Grant Application Process with Accessible Software

Case Study: Grant Intake System

Service: Custom Software Development, Custom Database Development

Industry: Government

Company TypePublic

Challenge:

A federal-state partnership that delivers grant funds for economic prosperity initiatives in the northern forest regions of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine was looking to streamline their grant application process. Their grant program has been rapidly growing, and the partnership anticipates receiving an increased number of applications each year. The program’s application process only allowed applicants to apply by sending numerous attachments via email or by mailing physical documents that then needed to be scanned. There was no central database or repository for information to be organized and reviewed. The office staff was forced to manually review applications, a process which was not sustainable due to the program’s growth and limited staff capacity.

In order to overcome these challenges, the partnership wanted to develop a grant application database for intake and processing of applications. The database had to be accessible, so that all users could apply for the government grants, and scalable, so that functionality could be expanded in future phases. The organization reached out to Aciron for assistance with designing, developing, and launching the database in time for the 2017 grant application cycle.

Approach:

Aciron began the project by collaborating with the client to define the requirements for Phase I of the application. It was determined that Phase I would include only the core functionality of the application, developed on an accelerated timeline in order to launch the database before the 2017 grant application deadline.

After establishing the project requirements, Aciron developed storyboards to articulate the look and feel of the user interface, as well as process flow diagrams to document how users interact with the system. Aciron worked closely with the client to get a thorough understanding of their current paper-based process, ensuring that the new automated workflow would meet the client’s unique business needs.

The application was developed according to the defined requirements and thoroughly tested through a 3-test cycle, including system, integration, and user testing. Both the Aciron team and the client team participated in this testing process, ensuring that the platform was defect-free, easy to use, and met users’ specific needs.

Because the grant intake application is part of a government program, Aciron also conducted accessibility testing to certify that the system complies with government standards. Section 508 Law mandates that all members of the public, including people with disabilities, have the same level of access to government information. Aciron’s consultants worked with accessibility specialists to perform Section 508 compliance testing on the application. This testing ensured that the application incorporated best practices like alt text, consistent headers, and tooltips. These features enable users to navigate the application using assistive technology like screen readers, while also improving the general user experience for all users.

Solution:

Aciron developed an accessible, web-based application with a SQL server back-end database that allows users to submit grant applications via a front-end online interface. The grant intake database provides a central repository for information to be organized and sorted for review.

Applicants are able to register, securely log in, and complete a grant application form to apply for government funding. The application follows the best practice guidelines for accessibility and usability, ensuring that all users can access the grant application. Users are able to upload required documents via a user-friendly interface. Input validation functionality and submission requirements functionality ensure that users submit fully completed applications. Once applications are submitted, they enter a submission workflow.

As the first point of review, administrators fill out an eligibility checklist to determine if an application is eligible for the grant. To continue the review process, administrators assign reviewers to applications and manage their access permissions. Grant reviewers view the submitted applications for their region and print them as needed.

The grant intake system has increased transparency and created an automated workflow that allows for more efficiency with the partnership’s limited staff capacity. The new streamlined process enables the partnership’s staff to properly track and record grant information, ensuring that applicants are qualified to apply and that grant funds are delivered in a timely manner.

The partnership is extremely happy with the new system, as it is now much easier for them to manage the grant application process. Aciron continues to work with the partnership to provide support and maintenance, as well as to add new functionality to the system. Future phases of the project will include monitoring and tracking of performance measures, as well as the ability to integrate with a financial system.

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