A public administration challenge that I believe can be addressed using the tools of social networking is increasing participation rates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the reframing the perception of the program by providing nutritious meals for school children
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federal program implemented in 1946 was designed to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities” (schoolnutrition.org). I would use Tempe Elementary school district as an example
Poppendieck (2010) describes the NSLP as a program that has been saddled with the tasks of alleviating poverty, ending hunger, reducing waste, controlling spending, and overcoming childhood obesity, along with its original goals of safeguarding the health and well being of the nation’s children and encouraging the consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities. The program is a reimbursable one; that is, schools and States get reimbursed by the Federal government based on the number of meals provided. Thus participation rates is related to revenues. There are three categories for the meals- full price, reduced and free meals. For more information on the school lunch program, please check here. I would focus on two challenges that face this program; the problem of access for eligible families who do not participate and achieving the program’s goal of providing nutritious meals and not just meals for children.
The problem of access and low participation rates: Poppendieck (2010) defines the problem of access as the barriers between an eligible child and a school meal. These barriers are application, certification, verification and price of the meal. Parents who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches may not apply for the program for reasons such as stigma, inability to understand the complex procedure and for something as simple as returning the form. See Tempe form here
The school district the forms are available online but parents have to print out the forms and return to the school. This creates the first problem of forms not being returned. A suggestion is that the District can develop a system where parents can fill and submit the form online. This eliminates the problem of application. Tempe's application form is well structured such that the burden of proof of eligibility for low-income families is removed from them.
Lessing (2006) gives various examples of how constraints (market, architecture, law and norms) can be used to change behavior and how the constraints can complement one other.
Tempe's architecture is that of "stickiness" that is, residents are very involved with the government and know what they want (personal communication with Charlie Meyer, Tempe City Manager). The District can complement the present architecture by using social media to drive the goal of increasing participation in the program.The District has a facebook account where information and activities are shared with parents. However, there is no information on the page about the school lunch program. The district can use its facebook website to promote the school lunch program, make parents aware of the benefits program, upload the menus on facebook, upload pictures of kitchen preparing the meals, encourage parents to volunteer and serve meals to kids, encourage online discussions and forums and respond to enquiries by parents and guardians.
On providing nutritious meals for schoolchildren ( and not just meet calories and dietary requirements), the buy-in of parents is necessary to change the negative perceptions of the program. Research (Poppendieck, 2010; Gordon, Crepinsek, Nogales, &Condon, 2007; Quinn, Husley&Ponza, 2009) has shown that some parents do not allow their kids participate in the program because the meals provided are unhealthy. A look at the menu validates this concern. Schools are faced with challenge of serving meals that children would eat and not waste and providing truly nutritious meals. This challenge can also be addressed using social networking. Arizona has programs that promote healthy eating, the problem is that people are unaware of these programs and the literature is academic. Tempe School district can create online forums where parents can share ideas on the meals to be provided and methods of food presentation to children. The district can send tweets and update their Facebook status with statements like “ an apple a day keeps the doctor away” that promote developing healthy nutrition habits for kids and parents, upload pictures and videos of celebrities and kids who eat “their vegetables”, share the successes of programs undertaken to promote healthy eating, and upload nutrition training for parents. Social networking can be used to change norms of what children want to eat and what they should eat.
Using this tool provides an inexpensive means of increasing participation rates, getting feedback and evaluating the program and gaining new ideas on how to implement the program.
Gordon A, Crepinsek M.K., Nogales, R. and Condon E. (2007). School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study- III: Volume 1: School Food Service, School Food Environment, and Meals Offered and Served. http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/SNDAvol1.pdf
Gordon A,Fox M.K., Clark M, Nogales, R., Gleason, P, Condon, E, and Sarin, A. (2007).School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-III: Volume II: Student Participation and Dietary Intakes. http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/menu/published/CNP/FILES/SNDAIII-Vol2.pdf Poppendieck, J. (2010). Free For All, Fixing School Food in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
Mirtcheva, D.M., Powell, L.M. (2009) Participation in the National School Lunch Program: Importance of School-Level and Neighborhood Contextual Factors. Journal of School Health. 79(10). 485- 494.
National Research Council of the National Academies. (2010). Developing and Evaluating Methods for Using American Community Survey Data to Support School Meals Programs (Interim Report)
Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/menu/published/CNP/FILES/SchoolMealsfnl.pdf
Quinn M., Husley L., and Ponza, M. (2009). Factors Associated with School Meal Participation and the Relationship between different Participation Measures. Retrieved from http://www.schoolmealsmatter.org/resources/pdfs/kids/School_Breakfast_Participation_Measures.pdf
US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. (2008). The National School Lunch Program: Background, Trends and Issues. Retrieved from www.ers.usda.gov