imagesDaniel Henninger, the author of the Wonder Land column in the WSJ, wrote today (10-29-2009) about “Obama and the Old Hat People.”  Today’s column is about the current health care reform proposals making their way through the US Congress, and the current emphasis on dramatically expanding Medicaid alongside the much-debated “public option.”  Henninger places the thinking behind these proposals squarely in the “old hat” category, calling them “pre-iphone” proposals.

Leaving aside the politics or the persuasiveness of his argument, his use of “old hat” thinking and “pre-iphone” proposals got me thinking about old hat, pre-iphone proposals in human services.  In this field we are all too familiar with the Medicaid model and its myriad rules, regulations, complexities, compliance pitfalls, and frustrations.  15 minute billing increments, arcane rounding rules, encounter forms, eligibility change management, concurrent auditing, and much much more are part of the daily lives of human services delivery systems and the people we support.  They are also a part of the infrastructure –human and technological–that human services organizations must have to survive.  We all have software designed to manage the minutia of the rules.

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It just doesn’t get much more old hat than that.  

Most human services organizations are moving to service models based fundamentally on the individual being served.  We call it person-centered-planning, self-determination, or any number of other names, but we are often stymied by old hat bureaucratic thinking.  In this time of technological innovation and social movements based on an increasing ability for individuals to belong to disparate de-centralized groups (social media being a very important example) AND an industry movement toward personal choice, we still haven’t been able to be very new hat, have we?

New hat would be a service delivery and funding model based on individually developed service plans.  New hat would be an iphone app that removes the bloat and just delivers the information relevant to that person in that moment.  I’m circling back, I think, to an earlier post about the need for innovation in human services.

 I want us to be post-iphone.  

We need to be new hat.

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My nonprofit has now been actively engaging with social networking for several months, and it has been very interesting.  While we were examining our strategy and our premise, silicon.com presented a much-tweeted about article titled “Twitter: The CIO’s best friend or chocolate teapot?”  After taking a moment just to enjoy the figure of speech, I learned that most of my CIO colleagues don’t have a Twitter strategy, nor do they think it’s part of their job TO have one.

It’s different for nonprofit CIOs, and it’s different still for nonprofit Human Services CIOs.  We need to be where our constituents and stakeholders are, and they are well represented on Twitter.  At KHS, we have an explicit strategy of disintermediation—of connecting as directly as possible with people who care about our mission and with people who could or are benefiting from our services, and Twitter is an important part of  that.

Twitter has helped us speak directly with adults with autism about our innovative (there’s that word again!) new Adult Community Autism Program, and has connected us more tightly with local media outlets.  It has also helped spark new conversations around our services in Moldova—especially during the days of the “Twitter Revolution” there.

On line communities and conversations come and go, but for me Twitter has become a part of my routine.  That feels like the beginning of a success story to me.

So far our efforts with social networking have produced mixed  results, which is not unaligned with our expectations.   All in all, though,  I’d say it’s been a success.

I’ll start not with the strategy, but with the functional areas of the organization we’re trying to impact.  Our first serious efforts were on behalf of Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), which is a program within Keystone Children & Family Services.  SSD holds PawsAbilities, its major fundraiser ,in March in Harrisburg PA.  It is a 2-day event and its success relies heavily on a large turnout.

This year we heavily promoted the event through Facebook groups and local event websites.  We recruited influential bloggers with service-dog credibility, to urge people to attend and/or to donate.  We tweeted before, during, and after the event.  We did live video streaming from some of the most fun events–like the dock dogs.  It was a lot of work!

The end result was more press coverage, happier vendors (they got much more exposure), a more connected support community, and about the same turnout as the prior year.  Given that the prior year was a year of very high attendance, and given that the US economy is very different this year (especially in mid-March) we’re calling this an enormous success.  The blogs are continuing and are generating real followers and creating distinct communities, which is wonderful.  The Facebook group has grown from about 25 members to over 700  (a squad!) and even our flagship website, www.keystonehumanservices.org is receiving new traffic.

Lessons learned  so far:

  • This is a lot of work, and it doesn’t seem to fall naturally into any one area of corporate responsibility.  In our case, IT is the champion, but that seems to be relatively rare.  Whoever takes the lead needs to be prepared to add a fair amount of workload.
  • The online toolset is still in a state of flux, so be prepared to try several before you land on the one(s) that are best suited to your organization.
  • Be prepared for internal skepticism.  There are still people in my organization who firmly believe that computers are time wasters, and that most people don’t need access to the Internet.  As much as I would sometimes like to dismiss that thinking as irrelevant in this decade, I need to take seriously the underlying concerns.  We have serious work to do, and we mustn’t let ourselves get distracted by fads. I need to be able to justify this effort with clear strategy statements and with clear results.

that’s all for today . . . .

 

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I’ve gotten some off-line feedback from CEOs on my last post, “it starts at the top.”  I’ve heard that many CEO’s want to use technology strategically, but they don’t know how to translate that into action.  

This post will be about the role of the CEO relative to technology.  The CEO needs to have the vision of what information and communication can do for their agency, and how it promotes the agency’s strategic vision.  If you’re a CEO and don’t already have that view of your agency, here’s how to get it.

Start first with your strategic vision for your organization, and with your mission statement.  For example, my organization, Keystone Human Services, has a mission statement that includes the following: Create opportunities for growth and meaningful life choices so that all people can be valued, contributing members of their community.  That mission statement is broad enough to encompass many areas of service, but is grounded in the idea of the individual and the community.

That means, then, that everything the organization does, including technology, either contributes toward achieving that mission, or it should be re-evaluated.  

Practically speaking, that means that whenever your company is looking for ways to use technology, link it back to the mission.  My organization made a commitment a long time ago that every employee needed an email address and needed access to the Internet.  Well before this was accepted practice, we moved forward with this vision, because our mission is community-based.  The “community” is not just the physical community we can touch, it is also the “virtual” community created on the web.  The mission guided us toward the practical technology action we needed to take.

Then the CEO, knowing that this direction would encounter some internal resistance, asked for monthly reports of how we were doing, started sending regular email updates to employees, and started using the tool he wanted others to use.  This led to the culture change we were looking for, and set the stage for the use of other tools.  We still have a long way to go, but our employees know where we are heading.

If you’re a CEO and your organization isn’t using technology as strategically as you would like, get together with your IT leader(s) and talk about what’s holding you back.  If you start at the top, keep it grounded in the mission, and use the tools you want others to use, then you’re on your way.