It’s happened again.  It happens with alarming regularity.  A funder, this time a State with whom we contract, has partnered with a technology company to provide us with everything we need to manage our business, and at the same time give the State the regulatory oversight information they need.  Um, thanks, but no thanks. 

If only it were that easy.  This is not the first State we have encountered to fundamentally misunderstand what it takes to run a human services organization.  They honestly believe that if they develop or buy a system and then require us to use it, we will be grateful.  We should be especially grateful, according to this line of thinking, if they negotiate a reduced license fee for the providers, and host the application themselves.  Then, as I have heard more times than I care to count, and always with a signature combination of earnestness and excitement,  “All you’ll need is a browser!”

No; all we really need is a spec.  Tell us exactly what information you need, and we’ll send it to you in an outgoing feed.  The typical response to that is, “Oh, don’t worry about that.  You can report out of our system, and get whatever information you want.” 

This is where I supress a heavy sigh.  How can they really not know that we need a cross-border understanding of what is going on inside our organization?  I spent time in government, and yet I managed to remember that businesses, nonprofit or not, still need to pay their employees, to produce financial statements, to bill funders and clients, to track fixed assets, and to understand their business process–whatever it is.   It’s really not that hard a concept to grasp.

And yet, as much as I would like to say “no thanks,” I can’t.  So, we are left with the terribly inefficient and frustrating process of duplicate data entry.  We track the information in our own system, and then we put it in the systems that the State (in this case) requires.  We enter it for ourselves first, and then for them.  We do this dance in multiple States and service lines.   If they could only understand that their benevolence is costing them and us real money that could be used for services, maybe they would change.  Maybe not.

Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.  There are still too many human services organizations that believe the state’s approach is the right one, and that have no data of their own about their own organization.  These agencies still haven’t learned the power of using information to move their agency forward, and are stuck in a  client-like relationship with the funder.  One day they will learn that they have made a painful trade-off.  As we work together to move the people we support out of “client” relationships with the myriad of agencies in their lives, we need to move our organizations too.