To increase identification of homeless people with brain injuries and connect them to appropriate services
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
The chief key to the success of our project was hiring a facilitator from Wilder to conduct our roundtable discussions. While at first we just planned to have Wilder facilitate the two discussions, we quickly realized that our project would be more effective if Wilder would also record the discussions and issue summary reports. With Wilder as recorder, facilitator, and evaluator, members of Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance (MNBIA) staff were able to participate in the discussions as equal partners with staff from the various organizations who work with the homeless community. The reports we received from Wilder not only chronicled what was said during the discussions, but organized the discussions into common themes. These reports helped us to tailor our cross-trainings and generate a list of possible solutions to the needs we identified.
Another aspect of the project which was instrumental to achieving our goals was the collaborative relationships that we built through this process. Prior to the roundtables, we had relationships with most of the organizations that attended. However, those relationships had been tenuous at times, with communication breakdowns and lack of agreement about roles and processes. The roundtables brought us closer to a common understanding of the issues. But they also helped us to become true partners with a greater level of trust and shared goals of improving the lives of people with brain injuries who experience homelessness. This has improved our working relationship to best serve our mutual clients.
The process of conducting two roundtable discussions before and after cross-training was vital for our success. Our preconceived notions about what was necessary to achieve our goal of improving identification of brain injury and services to homeless individuals included the assumption that training staff of organizations that serve homeless individuals was what was crucial. But it was the roundtable discussions that shaped the cross-training, the ideas generated, and our collective understanding about the issues. Without the roundtables, we might have merely done additional training without creating change that is both effective and sustainable.
Key lessons learned:
One of the key activities we engaged in was to identify individuals who had sustained a brain injury and had experienced homelessness to ensure that our process was inclusive. This was not as successful has we had hoped; we had two people who attended the first roundtable discussion, one of whom did not participate very much. Only one returned for the second roundtable. In hindsight, we should have made more of an effort to find more participants who fell into this category. We also could have held the roundtables at a location that would have been easier for people to access. Or we could have held a separate focus group for these individuals, which we still can do in the future.
Another lesson we learned was that we needed to be flexible in adjusting our brain injury training to the specific needs of participants in the training. After the first roundtable we discovered that, while some key personnel who attended the roundtable discussions might be familiar with the basics of brain injury and might assume that their staff members and volunteers were also, that may not always be true. This was important in knowing how to tailor our training sessions. We learned to use the roundtable discussions and specific training requests by roundtable participants as a starting place for training, and trust our experience to more specifically tailor the trainings.
Reflections on the community innovation process:
It is hard to give one answer to this question. Initially, our focus was on increasing collective understanding of the issues surrounding brain injury and homelessness. That was the goal of both our initial roundtable discussion and our cross-training efforts. However, our final roundtable discussion led us to generate many new ideas, which moved us closer to addressing our community need. Ultimately, however, all of this process to reach our overall goal would not be possible without the collaboration between all our organizations throughout the project and beyond.
Progress toward an innovation:
Through this project, we have not only come to a collective understanding of the issues surrounding brain injury and homelessness, we have also generated many new ideas, ideas which we would likely not have developed on our own. We are closer to innovation because of our ability to reflect throughout the process and because of the breadth of ideas we now have to work with. We are also in some sense farther away from innovation because of the depth of the new ideas we have generated, when we perhaps thought the “fix” would be more concrete, easier, and less expensive.
What it will take to reach an innovation?:
Some of the next steps necessary to achieve a breakthrough are:
1. Continue to nurture our collaborative relationships between all our organizations;
2. Assess, prioritize, and continue to implement the simpler ideas for improving our MNBIA processes and programs generated from the roundtable discussions;
3. Continue to offer training opportunities about brain injury to our partner organizations;
4. Check in with each organization to identify and understand their plans for improving their programs and processes for serving their clients with brain injuries;
5. Identify and seek out additional funding sources to implement the more complex ideas.
We have been thrilled with what we accomplished so far in this project, but we have much work to do to reach our ultimate goal. Some of the new ideas we hope to implement are: dedicate a staff member to do outreach and resource facilitation with the homeless shelters; develop a manual of resources for people who are homeless and have a brain injury; develop video training modules to address the high staff turnover rate; create a protocol to help shelter staff deal with individuals with brain injuries; identify innovative ways to communicate with homeless individuals, etc. Many of these ideas require additional funding. We have applied for a Headwaters grant to create video training modules and plan to apply for an additional Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant this fall. We plan to seek out additional funding sources as well.
If you could do it all over again...:
One piece of advice that we would give to ourselves would be to not assume that others are the problem that needs to be “fixed.” It is easy to fall into the habit of trying to fix others when we work in the social service industry. We can only “fix” us; they can only “fix” themselves. We can work together to transform what we do to improve the lives of those we all serve.
One last thought:
We truly appreciate the opportunities this grant has given us and the organizations that work with the homeless community. It is often difficult to find funding to develop rather than test ideas and we are grateful to Bush Foundation for the foresight to fund the process that makes innovation more likely.