Two thought experiments
1) If you've ever recently bought a home office printer, you might have noticed that it came with two manuals -- one with a detailed diagram of all the components in the machine and their functions, presented in 10 languages with an alphabetic index at the back, and another 3-step, illustrated "Quick Start" guide. Now, imagine your boss is breathing down your back and you must have something printed out within 5 minutes. Which manual do you choose?
2) Imagine you have relocated to live in a foreign country. Having had very little time to plan for the move, you are now on the ground there on your first day, holding two books: a 400pp treatise on the economic and cultural history of your new country and a local phrasebook with sections such as "banking" and "restaurants." You are hungry, you don't have any local currency, and you don't have any friends nearby who could help. Which book do you open first?
Planning a journey
For many, the transition from pregnancy through to parenthood is like a being given a complicated new appliance with no clear instructions, or embarking on a journey to a new land without an appropriate guidebook.
Of course, it helps to have information about what the future holds, and much of that is freely available in various languages on the Internet. But the path of nurturing a healthy baby from pregnancy through birth requires specific actions -- relating to insurance, medical appointments, personal health, employment, etc. -- at specific times throughout the journey.
A. Task lists organized by timeline
This idea proposal would take already-existing informational resources about the prenatal-through-postnatal journey -- sourced from reliable government and NGO organizations -- and reorganize them into timely, task-based lists. Designed particularly for under-resourced expectant parents in the United States, this idea recognizes that mental load (aka cognitive load) is a significant barrier to entry in navigating a complex/ fractured healthcare system and takes a user-centered approach to information delivery to structure info 1) as tasks, 2) progressively disclosed as needed, and 3) in a single, accessible, location with open-sourced content.
The challenges of the prenatal-through-postnatal journey differ significantly from person to person: Mr. and Ms. A may be very familiar with the process of giving birth in their home country, but be completely new to navigating the healthcare system in the U.S.; Ms. B may have a rough idea having seen members of family or friends give birth, but is too busy working 2 low paying jobs and navigating the public benefit system to research and read articles; Mr. C might want to support his fiancé as her pregnancy develops but have little knowledge about either the health, medical or insurance aspects of pregnancy and finds most information about it to be targeted towards women. I believe that it is possible to build a flexible, customizable, modular, task-oriented guidebook that can be tailored to different needs by first creating a "base" guidebook with generic, top-level information, with links to national resources, and then allow interested parties (NGOs, non-profits, community organizations, etc) to "fork" the original guide to create similar timeline-based To-do Lists for their communities, whether that means translating the documents to different languages, adding resources for specific cities and regions, or creating guides for individuals with specific health concerns.
In the U.S., most public benefits for under-resourced individuals are available at the local and state-level, and non-profits operate through local or regional chapters, under different requirements and rules. Maintaining these To-do Lists in an open-source environment would allow a community organization in Toledo to "fork" and create a "Prepregnancy: Toledo, OH" list, and for a newly pregnant woman who just moved to Toledo to see at-a-glance the phone numbers and websites of organizations relevant to her new home.
Turning information into action
As we all know, knowing something is not the same as doing it, and reading something once or twice doesn't mean that you will remember it when the time comes. Whether an individual is under-resourced financially or not, information delivered via different modalities (text, sound, image, combination) and media (print-out, phone call, website) will have varying levels of effect depending on age, culture, ability and other conditions. The "distance" between information ("I read the phone number on the website") and action ("I read it 2 weeks ago, but I didn't have time to call, and now I have time but I don't have the number.") is a "friction" point that can prevent many necessary actions from occurring. For this reason, I believe that an important supplement to this idea proposal is to explore different ways to allow users to keep the most relevant information on hand, available for when they need it the most. It is important to recognize that some users don't have regular Internet access, a personal computer, a smartphone and/or a home printer; and that even those who can access the Internet may have little personal time or skills to use it.
Following, are two ideas for allowing users to take the To-do Lists with them as printouts (A) or in the form of an app (B). Of course there are other ways that could be explored as well, including an e-newsletter or text message service (similar to the Babycenter.com one or Text4baby.org that sends you updates on your developing baby based on the due date) that could would send you links and contact info to local resources in a timely fashion, if you enter in the date of your missed period and your ZIP code.
One such method might be free downloadable printable templates. While printed out To-do Lists can't be updated or link to resources, they offer an immediate benefit of always being handy for the user. They can also be used in a modular way, and supplemented by other printables so that each individual can download and print only the sections that pertain to her or him. An example might be if Ms. A has been diagnosed with diabetes in her 2nd Trimester, she can download the 2nd Trimester To-do List for Diabetics, an Appointment Log to record notes about her frequent doctor visits and a Blood Sugar Chart. In addition, because these open-sourced To-do Lists have non-restrictive copyright, local health organizations and doctors offices would be free to print them out and distribute them on-site or by mail.
Another method could be to make the To-do Lists also available as a mobile app. For some users, after the initial download or update of their app, having all the information accessible while they are offline could be a real benefit. Additionally, providing this content in app form would allow the addition of other useful features such as the ability to add one's own private To-do items, or scan important papers (referrals, lab reports, prescriptions) for safekeeping.
For convenience, I've called these ToDo Lists a temporary name: "Bean2Baby," and created a very rough and broad user journey to describe how it might be implemented across various media. I think take this idea beyond the "napkin sketch" phase, more research needs to be done about the needs and typical experiences of more specific user personas within the "under-resourced mom" category. In addition, I recognize that the scope of this idea is pretty broad and represents a few different sub-ideas (A, B and C), and it would be useful to do a feasibility study to see which area could be developed to have the most efficient impact.