Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NAPC Conference: Drivers of Change and What They Mean for Human Services and Local Communities

The opening session on Tuesday of the National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC) annual conference was led by Jerry Friedman, executive director of the American Public Human Services Association.

From their website: The American Public Human Services Association, founded in 1930, is a nonprofit, bipartisan organization of state and local human service agencies and individuals who work in or are interested in public human service programs. Our mission is to develop and promote policies and practices that improve the health and well-being of families, children, and adults. We educate Congress, the media, and the general public on social policies and practices and help state and local public human service agencies achieve their desired outcomes in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child care, child support, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, child welfare, and other program areas and issues that affect families, the elderly, and people who are economically disadvantaged.

Friedman began: It's said that the key to being a successful human services planner is simply outliving the opposition.

Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The same describes today. Human Services is a counter-cyclical business: when times are tough and funding is lowest, the needs are greatest. We in human services have always lacked resources. The job is extraordinarily tough. The goals are so high. Our failures are very visible. We are working to put ourselves out of business. We conduct our business in the open. We make a mistake and it's on the front of the newspaper. We have zero tolerance for failure.

The economy is getting worse and worse. States are in deficit situations. The challenges of child abuse, lack of health insurance, unemployment, and other human needs are huge and are growing.

Our work is cut out for us. We need to be strategic in our approaches to meet these challenges. But I am somewhat optimistic -- this is an opportunity for transformation.

Here is one quick example: The election this last year was a monumental change in this country. I'm very optimistic since I live in a country that would make this kind of change. I remember the civil rights movement, and never thought I would live to see this day.

The APHSA developed a set of policy recommendations for the new administration. The executive summary of their report, "Unity of Purpose: Dignity, Independence, Responsibility," says:

The United States faces its worst economic challenge in decades. APHSA's members, the nation's public health and human service administrators, share the widespread alarm over the difficult circumstances under which so many now suffer. As the nation's experts in helping to alleviate need and promoting the highest possible degree of health and independence, we propose a plan that will:

  • create a health and human service system that moves beyond the dysfunction of the past

  • provide the flexibility necessary for state and local agencies to flourish, yet hold both federal and state health and human service leaders accountable

  • deal realistically and with transparency about budget issues

  • pay for what works, not simply what we can count

We need better measures of poverty. We can't go back to the 1950s to determine economic deprivation. We need to figure out economic safety nets, health care, and federal-state relationships. The report has a series of recommendations on what we need to do. I see out of this administration a willingness to begin the dialogue to make this happen.

The Focal Point document, Unity of Purpose, was met among the membership with a tremendous sense of urgency. We highlighted the things that could be done within 30 days, and many of these items made it into the stimulus package.

We need to focus first on federal and state relations. We need to restore the match rates. We need to frame the issue from a partnership perspective, with flexibility, with options instead of waivers.

The second was health care. First was SCHIP -- and that's now done. We identified 7 regulations that would have been damaging, and there's now a moratorium on them.

Child well-being is a priority. We want reform of the CFSR process -- no state has passed this process, and it's not working as well as being damaging.

Economic supports, such as child support and TANF reauthorization, need work. Reauthorization for TANF comes up in 2010, and it needs significant reform.

We're at a changing time. Technology is changing how we communicate. That is increasing the rapidity of communication, but also decreasing the civility. (Note: Here's Jerry Friedman's blog:

Do what you've always done, but act like you're on steroids. We have a short window with the stimulus package to think and act rationally. We don't have an exit strategy for this. We need to make sure we understand that the resources coming in are temporary and may be gone in 18 months.

Let's rely on what we know works, but do this more rapidly.

Welfare reform was a success -- not just in many of its outcomes, but in how it was developed. We began with a movement, not a law. Over 40 states had tried new ways to meet needs of the people, and the law came after. And we learned some things.

  • We knew that there was a compelling case for change.

  • We learned real change came from the community.

  • We learned that we needed to work together in partnerships.

  • We learned we had to look at the whole person, with all of the problems they faced.

  • We learned that a range of policies were needed in order to be effective.

There's a critical opportunity to lead the nation in making change.

  • First, we need to be clear about policy and planning. They are often different things. Too often, policy is simply compliance. Policy needs to be grounded in operational reality. But we shouldn't be afraid to dream. We have an opportunity for out-of-the-box solutions.

  • Let's be clear about what we're trying to solve. We're not always clear about what success looks like.

  • We need to be data driven. In God we trust; for everything else we need data.

  • We have to create options and big course corrections. We need flexibility, looking at best practices.

  • Let's look at the arguments and be proactive in understanding who won't like the proposed changes -- and why.

  • We need to think holistically. How will all these things impact other systems?

  • We need to be realistic, living within our means and doing what we can afford.

  • We need to get better at sales and marketing. We haven't been really good at getting our message out. We must get better.

  • We need to take advantage of the times. This means making the tough decisions that we were reluctant to make when times were good.

The times are tough, yes. But they're also good. I'm optimistic we can make the changes we need.


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