Center for Community Futures
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CHAPTER 3: INITIAL STRATEGIES

    An overarching theoretical construct for a new way to think about and address poverty is necessary, but not sufficient. While the theoretical construct provided in this blueprint fills an important gap in the nation’s approach to poverty and capacity building, it does not get it done. Similarly, neither do the independent strategies we as a nation currently pursue that are not leveraged toward a common objective.  Recognizing that neither a construct nor independent strategies alone can get the job done, strategies built upon and aligned with an overarching construct are needed.

    A first set of strategies that begin to put the construct into action are described in this chapter. The descriptions provided can be used to further develop the strategy and to develop operational plans for specific projects that can be immediately initiated. Recognizing that any strategy conceived now is only the beginning of a long-term process, the strategies described in this chapter serve as initial learning platforms for future work and as mechanisms for moving forward toward the long-term vision. 

    These strategies represent a mix of short- and long-term, operational and strategic, broad and specific, and well- and minimally- developed in concept. They involve some sectors while missing key others, but serve as a beginning to establish momentum toward broader engagement and planning by every sector of society to effectively address poverty. All of these strategies require further development and operational plans.

Community Future Search Strategy

    The Community Future Search Strategy would employ a specific system theory-based methodology (Future Search) to convene six to eight communities across the country in discussing and planning for their future, with poverty as the topic. These convenings are intended to create the conditions in which open dialog can occur, common ground can be found, systemic ownership can be established, effective plans can be created, and commitment for action can be built.

    The goals of the Community Future Search Strategy are to:

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Help communities find common ground upon which to develop new antipoverty strategies and to build true commitment for implementing the strategies

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Educate local leaders to effective ways of working with large diverse groups.

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Create a mentoring support system for community leaders to help them carry out successful implementation plans.

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Build a critical mass of supporters for new approaches to poverty in every region of the country.

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Form a basis for a national conference of local people and policy makers, based on issues surfaced at local conferences that cannot be addressed locally.

bulletInfluence more effective state and federal policies, based on the first hand experiences of local communities from every region of the country.

Based on these goals, four phases are envisioned for this strategy. They are:

1. Start up planning and community leaders workshop
2. Community conferences
3. Policy development conference
4. Assessment of learning for replication and future projects

Start-up Planning and Community Leaders Workshop

    The start up and planning activities would be designed to initiate community interest in participating and then to cull down the resulting list of interested communities into a group of 6-8 participating communities. Communities in regions throughout the U.S. would be invited to submit an application to participate. 12-15 communities would initially be selected (based on specific criteria, one of which would involve the existence of a local champion/leader willing to see the community through the process) to send two to four champions/leaders from their community to attend the Community Leaders Workshop. The workshop is intended prepare them for championing their community effort and allow them to see the methodology to be used in the community conferences (phase 2) and experience such a convening first hand.

    The Community Leaders Workshop will:

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Allow leaders from across the country meet each other and establish themselves as a support system across all regions.

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Give participants a first-hand experience with an effective high-participation planning method that enables a group of diverse people to influence their collective future.

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Team community leaders up with experienced conference managers/mentors who live in their part of the country.

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Enable the conference managers/mentors to quickly understand the issues and build relationships with their local advisees.

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Help the teams do preliminary planning of their own community conferences.

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Encourage the further development of a follow-up strategy for sharing experiences, conducting review meetings, and influencing public policy.

 

    By participating in the workshop, participants will not only build their capacity as community leaders, but they will determine the extent to which their community is ready to engage in a Community Conference. Based on their own assessments, it is expected that 6-8 communities will be determined ready to engage in a Community Conference. Using this model, a team of ready, willing, and able community leaders will have been identified and mobilized to lead a community-based effort to create more a viable community future and in so doing, help significant numbers of residents avoid or overcome poverty. In addition, the leaders from the communities who assessed themselves as not quite ready for the Community Conference experience will have increased their own capacity for community leadership.

 

Community Conferences

    The topic for the 6-8 Community Conferences will be "The Future of [Community]" or some close variation that addresses the issue of the community’s approach to poverty and more broadly, to building community capacity. Each of the conferences will get the "whole system" in the room using the Future Search methodology to:

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Create and act upon a shared future vision for their community,

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Discover shared intentions and take responsibility for their own plans, and/or

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Implement a shared vision that already exists.

    The conference methodology provides only the structure and environment in which to engage the community. It does not prescribe specific strategies or actions for the community to take, nor does it determine what is appropriate or not appropriate for the participants to discuss. The structure allows the whole system to review the past, explore the present, create ideal future scenarios, identify common ground, and make action plans.

    Everything else about the Conference—the participants, dates, times, location, etc.—will be determined and implemented by a local steering group. Each team of community leaders who participated in the Community Leaders Conference will recruit their own steering groups to plan—with the help of an experienced conference mentor—their Community Conference. Up to 60-70 people in each community, representing the "whole system," will participate in the Conference, including residents, teachers, business leaders, human services leaders, youth, local, state and federal officials, health care providers, church leaders, etc.

 

Policy Development Conference

    After all of the Community Conferences have taken place, a Policy Development Conference would be convened among the local, state, and Federal officials who participated as stakeholders in the Community Conferences. This conference would be similarly designed and include the policy stakeholder/participants from all of the Community Conferences, as well as other stakeholders in developing and implementing policy at the Federal, state, and local levels. This conference would use the collective learning from the Community Conferences as a basis for its topic, "The Future of Policy in Providing Enabling Conditions to Communities" or a similar variation that creates ideal policy circumstances that would provide the enabling conditions for communities to carry out the action plans they developed during their Community Conferences.

    The Policy Development Conference would build on the original commitments participants made in the Community Conferences and create new, policy-specific commitments among policymakers in creating a policy environment that enable and empower communities to effectively address their communities’ poverty. Since many of the participants in the Policy Development Conference are stakeholders in both the community and the policy development "system," the combination of the Community and Policy Development Conferences will help create a link between and joint ownership among communities and policy makers for new ways of addressing poverty and building capacity.

 

Assessment of Learning for Replication and Future Projects

    The first round of the Community Leaders Workshop, Community Conferences, and the Policy Development Conference would be used to develop a model that can be repeated each year for five years. This replication could lead to the involvement of several thousands of residents in 40 or more communities across the country and hundreds of policy makers, all focusing on addressing poverty and building capacity in new ways.

Indicators for Success

    If this strategy is successful, we would see:

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Communities across the country actively engaging in dialog and action planning to address their issues of poverty and more broadly, to build a more viable community future.

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Ownership and engagement among community members in the future of their communities

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Communities implementing their action plans and committing themselves to continue the work until they reach the goals they set for themselves.

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Over time, healthier communities in which residents actively work together to ensure that every member of the community can reach their potential.

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Over time, a new embedded community culture in which residents actively work together to ensure that every member of the community can reach their potential.

 

Community Demonstration Strategy

    During the course of this initiative, two parallel themes emerged – we must create a human service delivery system that is person-centric, not program-centric; and in order to create this person-centric approach, the current human service delivery model must literally be turned upside down. Most new federal initiatives begin with demonstration projects to test the assumptions made through research and feedback from those impacted. This model is no exception. The community demonstration strategy is grounded in the assumption that there is a better way to deliver services; this better way will lead to better outcomes (fewer people in poverty); and the tools to do not exist in today’s federally mandated program structure.

    Therefore one of the key next steps is to put the ideals of the construct in this blueprint to the test in communities to be able to translate the work into real progress that can demonstrate that this approach will produce better results than have other efforts. We know that human services can be delivered in far more effective ways than they are in any place today. We know that it takes all sectors of a community to be successful in following a new path and that there must be community ownership of the process. 

     There is a strong belief that applying the principles in the construct within a community will produce better outcomes for those in poverty than have other approaches. This will remain a theory until it is tested in real places under real conditions. Essentially there are two major aspects that need to be tested: the first is how a community can come together to find new ways to approach poverty as a comprehensive issue and the second is how service delivery can be shifted from a program based orientation to an individual focused approach that begins to look at the whole person and removes the barriers to accessing services so that the individual’s needs take precedence over program requirements. Neither of these are new concepts and both have been tried in differing degrees but they have not been put to scale or studied for impact.

    To take the construct presented here to the next level, the concepts need to be demonstrated in live settings and compared to other ways of doing business.  Therefore, there is a need to have, optimally, a series of demonstration communities, but minimally, at least one, which will devote their collective energy to testing the precepts and being pathfinders for the rest of the country.

    The ideal scope of the demonstration models would be to have all the principles of the construct incorporated into a few communities, as noted above. However, there could be a range of options that start with less intense engagements that include the essential elements of a community planning component, an individual-focused service delivery strategy, and an evaluation component to determine if the model produces better outcomes. The service delivery component would ideally include the full range of human services available to support individuals in poverty.

    It is even possible to start with a limited number of human services programs and to create a person-centered strategy for those investments -streamlining eligibility and opening up delivery options to look at different models. On a broader scope, the precepts could be mixed with ongoing foundation or other funding sources that would give the demonstrations greater flexibility and be able to include more services in the mix. There is obviously a need for longer duration investigation that will be able to look at changes over time.

    In no case do we expect there will be quick changes in outcomes and we also know that any community engagement strategy is a long-term activity. Therefore we must ensure, however these principles are tested, they are given sufficient time to take root and to have a chance to make a difference in a community. 

    There is a great deal that can be learned from what has taken place already as part of community change models. What is evident is that the activities to date have been limited in scope e.g. focus on housing or focus on infrastructure. There is also much to be learned from other Federal initiatives in integration of programs. One area for focus is the One-Stop Career Center initiative under the Workforce Investment Act, which brought together a series of mandated partners to deliver workforce development services in local areas.

    The major components of any demonstration effort should include:

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Embedding the theoretical construct in Comprehensive Demonstration Projects

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    o Using communities as drivers for full range of activities to address poverty

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    o Using communities as learning sites to test the precepts of the model and to build on the research and the input from the working sessions to determine the demonstration parameters

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Build on extensive stakeholder input

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Built on the core principles and test their efficacy

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Incorporate the tenets of the community building, family economic security, technology as an enabler, and new definitions of poverty as bases for the demonstration project parameters

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Allow communities to determine their own strengths and needs

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Build on successful local initiatives already underway

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Engage local residents in the design and structure of the projects

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Leveraging funds as a crucial success factor

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Garnering State support for fund re-direction

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Matching funds from state, local or foundation sources

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Technology as an enabler of the project administration as well as the delivery of services is a key ingredient of success

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Testing new models to deliver services is paramount – models that are individual focused not program focused: the expectation is demonstration projects will radically shift service delivery models

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Community engagement must be a central tenet of any demonstration process.

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Ensure there is a strong evaluation component to any demonstration process.

    Each of these factors should be employed in assessing potential community readiness to engage in the demonstration process. There should be an internal exercise of determining the relative weight of each of these factors and creating a rating scale to be used in selecting communities to participate in the demonstration process. Optimally, this process should involve national, state, and local stakeholders who will then become champions for the model and can give the process greater credibility. To the extent feasible foundations and national interest groups could play vital roles in the process as well.

Indicators of Success

    Success will be measured through two aspects. The first would be achieving a demonstration project in at least one community that tests both the community engagement and the human services integration to some degree. The term demonstration does not imply that a separately funded effort must be instituted.  Success could be defined as an existing community effort that already is underway and adds elements to it that reflect the foundation provided by the theoretical construct. 

    The second aspect of success will come later in the process when the actual demonstration is completed and there is evidence that the interventions have made a positive improvement on metrics determined during the development stage but ultimately relate to people being better off - moving on their journey to achieving their own goals.

 

Sector Rooting Strategy

    Recognizing that every sector of society has a role in addressing the nation’s poverty, the Sector Rooting Strategy is intended to begin embedding the theoretical construct into one sector as a test for learning how to embed it in other sectors. Embedding the construct means that the vision, mission, imperatives, and principles included in the construct are incorporated into the sector’s strategic direction and that its operations (and ultimately the culture) are aligned accordingly. Effectively aligning operations with the components of the construct would fundamentally change the way the sector (or a specific component or operation of the sector) does business and ultimately improve the sector’s performance in building the capacity of its customers to avoid or get out of poverty. Such capacity building would provide sustainable economic benefits back to the sector.

    The public human services sector could be the initial "test sector" in which embedding the construct could be attempted. The public human services sector is uniquely positioned to play an important role in the larger societal change toward a fundamentally different way of thinking about and addressing poverty because it:

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Has a mission to help people make their way toward health and well-being and works directly with children, adults, and families experiencing difficulties in achieving them. It knows the people.

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Sits as a sector in society that sees and experiences through its work more of the conditions of poverty than any other sector. It knows the issues.

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Sits as a sector that experiences daily the disconnect between what is needed to build the capacity of each individual and the policies and structures that are in place to do so. It knows the gaps.

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Sits with influence on policy at the Federal, state, and local levels. It knows the decision makers.

 

    With these reasons in mind, the public human services sector is in the unique position to see the systemic nature of the conditions of poverty and its many parts. Therefore, it makes the sector an attractive starting point for change. The initial product of this strategy will be the plan itself—the specific approach and operational plan for beginning to embed the construct into the strategic direction and operations of the sector. Since this initial trial with public human services is intended to become a model for embedding the construct in other sectors, a common framework for a phased approach upon which sector-specific activities can be built will be an important initial product. For example, a common framework could include components of:

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Identification of sector-based entrée points and potential champions;

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Initial exposure to the construct and strategic partnership dialogs with potential champions;

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Strategic dialog on how aligning the sector’s work with the construct would impact how it does business and what it considers its measures for success;

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Identification of existing structures, systems, policies, outcomes/performance indicators, etc. (at the Federal, State, local, and/or organizational levels) that enhance or hinder the sector’s ability to align its work with the construct;

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Development of areas for change (based on the above) and specific change strategies in those areas;

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Establishment of test sites or projects, based on the above work, to begin to re-engineer how organizations within the sector do business to align its work with the construct; and

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Compilation and documentation of learning to inform future sector strategies.

    Obviously, a number of activities and tasks would be involved for each of the framework components above and further development of the strategy is needed.

 

Indicators for Success

    If this strategy is successful, we would see:

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Proactive planning in the sector for reducing the number of people living impoverished lives.

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Changes in the sector’s (or subset) success indicators/performance goals that reflect the vision and principles of the construct.

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Re-alignment of policies, systems, structures, behaviors, and work in the sector (or subset) to achieve the performance goals consistent with the vision and principles of the construct.

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Ultimately, a customer base that is fully contributing in society as producers and consumers.

 

Market Solutions Strategy

    The Market Solutions strategy would provide an opportunity to bring private sector actors and solutions to bear on issues of importance to low-income families and communities. Groups of private sector leaders would be convened on a regular basis to consider the question of how they can profitably invest in and provide solutions to improving the lives of low-income families and children. Building on an initial convening of a group of private sector leaders who discussed how they could invest in ways to support asset accumulation—an important market issue for low-income families and communities—this strategy would continue with similar convenings.

    The Market Solutions strategy embodies the principle that our approaches to addressing poverty be consistent with America’s tenet of market solutions—that the infrastructures and mechanisms to assist those in need should be developed by tapping into private resources and market solutions. Doing so would geometrically expand the resources and possibilities for maximizing personal and societal capacity.

Strategy Rationale

    There is a significant segment of our society that is not participating in our mainstream banking and financial management systems. Conservative estimates indicate 13 million Americans do not have bank accounts. It is important to address this issue because:

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These individuals are more likely to become victims of predatory lending practices

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Reliance on pawn shops, commercial check cashing operations and rent-to-own furniture and appliance centers greatly increases costs to these consumers

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Creating a banking account and establishing commercial credit is a major passport out of poverty

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Retaining as much earned money as possible and creating a savings plan are the first steps for accumulating wealth and improving quality of life

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Helping these individuals will stabilize communities by helping to keep people from returning to dependence on public assistance

 

Opportunity Statement

    There is a tremendous opportunity in addressing this issue. Millions of hard working Americans are trying to improve their economic viability and quality of life for their families. A private sector market has emerged to serve these people, but unfortunately, services are costly. This market has often been centered in cash-checking operations, pay day lending services, and other often predatory lending organizations. Commercial banking institutions have the opportunity to gain access to this previously untapped market to create and sustain an enlarged customer base. If the commercial banking industry can develop programs and products to successfully meet the unique needs of this population, they can establish new customer relationships that will grow in profitability as personal wealth and assets accumulate.

 

Strategy Implementation

    The first steps for implementing this strategy include:

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Securing funding for further development and implementation. Since the strategy aligns with the mission and mandate of the Office of Community Services (OCS) Assets for Independence Program, OCS would be a logical potential partner.

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Convening an advisory board of private sector individuals to consider and evaluate potential efforts and to bring the support of their organizations to this effort.

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Interviewing potential financial services sector partners to identify other topics related to the private sector’s role in maximizing personal potential.

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Interviewing executives of firms that employ low-income workers to identify partners willing to consider such things such as direct deposit for employees.

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Interviewing low-income workers employed by potential employers to identify their needs and concerns.

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Developing a workplan for a demonstration project to provide financial services for low-income families and communities that addresses the needs of these families and communities in managing their finances and pursuing asset development such as savings, home ownership, and small business creation, while still maintaining profitability for the private sector.

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Recruiting private sector partners to invest in the demonstration(s).

 

Indicators for Success

This strategy will be successful if:

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Private sector organizations join the effort.

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Greater numbers of low-income families and communities begin to accumulate assets as demonstrated by increased savings and investment in education, small business, home ownership, and retirement funds.

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There is a reduction in predatory lending practices.

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There is an increase in traditional financial services available to low-income families and communities.

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There is a reduction in reliance on pay day lending services.

 

Federal Interagency Collaboratives Strategy

    There are a host of federal agencies that have a mandate to serve those in poverty in some way. They range from addressing housing needs, developing basic skills, providing for health and nutritional needs, childcare, transportation support, support for occupational training, and job placement assistance. As evidenced by the Matrix of Programs serving those in poverty, many federal agencies have some role to play in addressing the needs of the poverty and near poverty population. In each case, these are separately funded programs that, for the most part, are not connected to one another other at the federal level.

    Beyond the massive welfare reform legislation, there is one example of a federal initiative to integrate programs that has been ongoing for about eight years. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 required agencies providing workforce services to delivery core services (those services open to all) through One-Stop Career Centers. 

    This initiative has shown some promise in bringing services together under one roof but has had limited success in truly integrating services consistent with the principle of shifting to a person centered approach as opposed to a program-centric model.

    Essentially, WIA kept the programs in tact but required collaboration through interagency agreements and formal cost sharing models. Locally multiple partners are expected to work together to achieve commonly defined outcomes but they are still primarily driven by the outcomes expected of their own program funding streams and the only real sanctions come from those program specific expectations. Greater program flexibility was not built in to the operating model and therefore the key program limitations remain in effect.

    This is a microcosm for what is lacking in the federal sector to achieve the goal of a person-centered model, a cornerstone of the construct presented in this document. In order to begin to address this service delivery disconnect, there is merit in federal agencies to begin discussions about the person-centered concept and how their funding streams can be modified to realize better outcomes for individuals based on individual needs.

    There should be a place for discussions to take place on essentially block granting more funds with looser restrictions but tighter outcome expectations. This may come from action pushed by the Office of Management and Budget with support from stakeholders who see the value in the process. The welfare legislation can certainly be cited as a positive example of how such an approach can be effective. An issue for examination within that context is how much control States exerted to simply push new programs to the local level without regard for the person-centered approach.

    Defining the common outcomes and leaving the structure to state and local implementers appears to be the key. This is a critical step that could be advocated at the federal level. However, there is little impetus for change from individual agencies.

    Therefore, the push for change needs to be generated from the outside using key stakeholders who believe there is merit in aggregating program resources and further devolving responsibility to the state and local level.

    Therefore to move this issue, it should be tested with key member organizations representing the human services field. There have been many initiatives on program integration that have been limited by federal restrictions. The typical drawback to supporting further integration in the form of block granting is the fear that the effort will result in overall funding reductions. This must be addressed directly as part of any person-centered initiative. This overall strategy needs a home outside of the federal structure and could be well connected to foundation efforts that have tried to do the same thing with their dollars.

Social Change Benchmarking Strategy

    The Social Change Benchmarking Strategy is envisioned as a study into past successful and unsuccessful social change movements to identify conditions for success, things to avoid, and key milestones to anticipate as the larger initiative moves forward. Results of this study would be incorporated into the planning and development of future strategies to sustain momentum toward the long-term vision. Potential project components include:

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Identification of social change movements to explore.

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Development of research goals and related research strategies.

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Research: literature and media reviews (e.g. newscasts, documentaries, newspapers) personal interviews with change agents, data analysis, etc.

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Analysis of findings to identify key things that should and should not be done as the long-term initiative moves forward.

 

Indicators for Success

    If this strategy is successful, we will:

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Know what to do and what not to do to continue building momentum 

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Be able to develop specific strategies for moving forward with some level of confidence that similar strategies have been effective in the past.

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Be able to effectively manage expectations and anticipate the unexpected, based on the experiences of the past in similar situations.

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Have new relationships (through personal interviews) with the "kindred souls" who have experienced the challenges and accomplishments of creating social change.

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5

Appendix A (21st Century Model to Address Poverty)
Appendix B (Poverty Programs Summary and Matrix)
Appendix C  (Issue Papers)
Appendix C1 (
Initiative context presentation: Characteristics of Successful Change)
Appendix D  (Income and Work Support Policies and Strategies)
Appendix D1 (Working Session Descriptions)
Appendix D2 (Working Session Descriptions, continued)
Appendix E  (Working Session Descriptions, continued)
Appendix E1  
Appendix E2 (Current state presentation: Highlights from the research)
Appendix F (Participant List)
Appendix G (Project Staff List)


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