Many people today are talking about systems change, including those of us here at United Way of the Greater Triangle. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Systems change is a shift in the way that a community makes decisions about policies, programs, and the allocation of its resources — and, ultimately, in the way it delivers services to its citizens. To undertake systems change, a community must build collaborative bridges among multiple agencies, community members, and other stakeholders.” A nice, long, and, believe it or not, fairly simple definition. But what does this look like?
Here are some examples:
For many years those of us providing human services have focused on helping people change their circumstances. We’ve done this by increasing their personal capacity. Programs have trained them to manage their money. Other programs have given clients more opportunities to access health care services. Still other programs are helping people move in to affordable housing. Programs do all of this and still come up with poor results and clients seem to fail. But what is at the heart of the failure, is not the failure of the individual, but the environment around them.
I was talking with the folks at PLM Families Together yesterday. They provide short term housing to homeless families. They help people improve their income and find permanent housing. Recently, they had a family who had exited the program and was living on their own, they had just missed their rent deadline for the first time in several months and the landlord was ready to evict them. However, when PLM intervened and began talking with the landlord, they were able to maintain the family’s housing. They spent time with the landlord in discussing the support they are able to provide the family. This new relationship is key. This new relationship is a way that the agency is working, not just with the client, but within the system the client has to negotiate.
Another great example is occurring in Raleigh as well. There is a pilot project that includes the Women’s Center of Wake County, PLM Families Together, and InterAct of Wake County. These three agencies are each placing staff members at the Women’s Center to create a Centralized Intake System for Homeless Women and Families. This is an emerging best practice across the country and the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness is implementing this best practice and it is being lead by these three United Way partner agencies. It is a great example of a systems change in that it is creating a one stop entry point for the county’s homeless women and families; a first in the State of North Carolina. It channels people to one place. Agreements are made with all the providers in the community who would be able to provide services and they keep the centralized intake staff abreast of available vacancies in their program on a daily basis.
These are just two simple examples of systems change; change that really will make it easier for clients to receive services and improve their success rates.