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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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.

The only thing they have in common, perhaps, is that I was thinking about them at the same time. While listening to Gillian Welch’s Elvis Presley Blues, thinking about technology, human services, and the digital divide, an admittedly strained metaphor came to me.  I was thinking about how, in Welch’s words, Elvis took us all out of black and white, and how we are still waiting for the transformational breakthrough to take us out of the technology dark ages.  I’m tired of waiting.

We are struggling, as William points out in his comments to the first post on this blog, with not only limited staff and limited funding, but with limited vision about what we can and should be working on.   Are we stuck with the Pat Boone equivalent of technology and ideas of what it can do, when we could be dancing to Elvis?  If we are, are we equally the constrainers as the constrained?  

In Human Services we suffer from a sad paucity of vision.  What should we look like?  What should we be doing?  Let’s move beyond the old familiar litany of our limitations.  In a bizarre leap of mixed metaphors, I want to nail to the door of the blogosphere, 95 theses of what we want and need.  I want to stake out the technology high ground.  I want to tell the vendors what we want and need, rather than be told.   I want to work together with you, reader (if there are any of you left after this post) to redefine what we do and how to do it successfully.

 

Next post will be thesis number 1.  We Need Integrated Communication.