What has been most instrumental to your progress?
There were several components that were instrumental to our project making progress. Increasing the collective understanding of the need for a coordinated social service system in our community was critical to moving our project forward. We were able to accomplish this through building a collaborative of social service organizations and we were also able to accomplish this through outreach to other community groups. When people had a better understanding of the need, our project made sense to them and they were more likely to offer or voice their support. The facilitator spent time with the collaborative sharing data and expertise that outlined the need for a coordinated social service system, which lead to great conversations and a better understanding. We were also given the opportunity to present to several influential groups and boards that gave us the platform to build the understanding. We were able to present to board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce, a community board for a large health care system and to the housing consortium whose membership included financial supporters, landlords and social service organizations.
Another component that was instrumental to making progress was engaging the collaborative to generate a solution to address the need for a coordinated social service system. The collaborative immediately looked to a solution that was technology based to allow agencies to easily communicate with each other and to establish a centralized data system. The part of this solution that we did not realize at first, was the benefit to smaller agencies of having a sophisticated software to better track their clients and services provided. Many of the smaller agencies that were part of the initial small pilot project were using a spreadsheet or paper/pencil to track client service data. The coordinated software gave them the opportunity to track client data, services and outcomes that they previously had not been able to track. This benefit was instrumental to the project progressing as the agencies could immediately see the direct benefit of being part of a coordinated social service system.
Another aspect of our work that was instrumental to our progress, was the overall support and collaborative spirit from the four social service agencies that were part of the small pilot project. These agencies were true partners in testing the solution and willingly invested a tremendous amount of energy and time into the pilot project. They were patient and understanding as new data points were added into the system, procedures were revised and reports for their data collection needed to be modified or updated. The project would not have progressed without their collaborative spirit.
Reflections on the community innovation process
The community innovation diagram related to the work we completed through the grant project on several different levels. We definitely built capacity through increasing collective understanding of the need. The diagram depicts this as a continuous process which is so true. Even after we were generating potential problem solving ideas or even testing a small piece of the solution, we were constantly increasing the collective understanding with other key stakeholders and members of the community. Continuing to build the shared understanding has been essential to moving the project forward. The other part of the diagram that we found directly related to our work was the testing and implementing solutions. We had put together a very small pilot project and were constantly learning and then regrouping to improve the process so we circled through that loop multiple times.
Progress toward an innovation
We believe that after our grant project, we are definitely closer to achieving an innovative breakthrough but we still have more work to do before the innovation is effective and sustainable. The grant process allowed us to increase the understanding of the need for a coordinated social service system in our community, it allowed our collaborative to generate possible solutions and allowed us to test an identified solution on a small scale. We believe that the solution has begun to show positive results after a few months, but we don't know yet the level of effectiveness since it was tested with just a small number of organizations and we have not yet been able to identify how to sustain the solution. We believe that as this project continues to develop long term opportunities exist to build the coordinated network to collect data at a system level on a large scale, improve communication among agencies, identify duplicative programming efforts and to identify unmet needs.
If you could do it all over again...
If we could go back to the start of our grant period and give ourselves one piece of advice...it would be that people really do want to work together to find a solution to an identified problem - they may have different opinions on how that should happen, but when people feel they are heard they are able to join together to make a difference to work on developing and implementing a solution.
One last thought
We have been honored to receive a community innovation grant and have found the overall experience to be rewarding, challenging and enlightening. The process has encouraged conversations about the need for a coordinated social service system in our community, not only among social service agencies but the broader community and that has been very positive.