The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) engages clients and others who interact with DHS programs in a variety of ways: regular roundtables/cabinets (e.g., Children’s Cabinet); town halls and community forums; social media (e.g., Facebook and LinkedIn); and the Director’s Action Line (DAL). In 2018, DHS expanded its public engagement strategy to include SMS text messaging (texting), a tool that is convenient for recipients and allows DHS to scale up communication with clients and other Allegheny County residents.
What is this report about?
This data brief describes DHS’s texting outreach from 2018 to 2022. This brief outlines the different distribution paths and mechanisms that DHS uses for text outreach, and characterizes the number and content of text messages sent, the demographics of the text recipients, and the impact of DHS’s text outreach thus far.
What are the takeaways?
- From 2018 through 2022, DHS sent 832,038 text messages to 151,707 phone numbers. Over the same time period, DHS received 193,283 messages in response from 19,185 phone numbers.
- The content type of the text messages sent over this time period can be categorized as follows: program outreach (48%), data collection (44%), alerts (7%), and public policy updates (1%).
- The subject of the text messages sent over this time period are diverse, but a disproportionate share (72%) are about transportation, due to the extensive use of text messaging for outreach and data collection in relation to the Allegheny County Discounted Fares Pilot program.
- In 2021, 74% of text messages were related to one of the following initiatives: COVID-19 rental assistance, the Older Youth Pandemic Relief program, or information about free tax preparation services.
- In 2022, 88% of text messages were related to one of the following initiatives: the Allegheny County Discounted Fares program, the SNAP fresh access program, or recruitment and outreach for paid research opportunities with university partners.
- Text messaging has allowed DHS to connect clients to resources at scale, and to elicit feedback from clients who would likely never otherwise have the time or opportunity to share their feedback. Examples of this described in the brief include text outreach associated with the Older Youth Pandemic Relief program, and text message surveys sent to clients who use Family Center services.
How is this report being used?
The county is interested in innovative and effective ways to outreach and engage with clients. We believe that text messaging is one way to do this at scale. The county is using the information presented in this report to inform overall strategy about how we best engage and use client feedback information to improve programs and increase overall access to social services.