Milwaukee and Missouri: Creating Sustainable Change In Government

Wraparound Milwaukee - Changing Government

Wraparound Milwaukee - Changing Government

I love to talk about Milwaukee (where I was born and raised and, at least somewhat, educated).

Tim Decker posts about Wraparound Milwaukee in his latest post on Better Faster Cheaper.  It is a great program, helps kids in need and innovates the right way.  It is not just change because someone said it was important to change.  It is purposeful.  Thoughtful.  Original.  And impactful.

They, as well as Tim’s own Missouri Division of Youth Services, focus on several dynamics of change in Government which make it all work.  The basics are outlined below:

Reframe your vision. Leadership must change its vision of what the organization is doing. In our cases, this meant a new approach to helping our youth and a new view on what they themselves were capable of. At Wraparound we created a shared vision based on the common value that care should be strength-based, individualized, family-directed and community-based. Missouri Division of Youth Services created a set of beliefs and principles that fundamentally reshaped how the system viewed youth, families and the rehabilitative process.

Show it works. When people can’t fathom that a different path might exist, show them. A pilot program can also take away some of the political risk you’re asking your sponsors to take. In a Milwaukee County pilot, within ninety days 17 of 25 children in residential treatment returned home. Within a year we had sent all the children but one back to their families. The results went a long way toward convincing Medicaid, juvenile justice and child welfare officials to sign on. Missouri gradually opened smaller programs across the state, prior to closing its large institutions, to show policymakers and frontline workers, among others, that the new approach would work.

Look across systems. True innovators think systemically. This includes an appreciation of how change in one part of the agency has effects elsewhere in the agency; the role of the environment in which youth are living; and the political dynamics and power. In Milwaukee, considerable effort was invested into understanding the strengths, resources and needs of the Milwaukee community and into understanding the rules of the major funding streams.

Be strategic about change. Often we try to adopt new program ideas like evidence-based therapy without paying attention to the underlying but requisite change in culture. Effective change in organizational culture requires a strategic mindset of how to change the status quo. Cultural change, for example, is often driven by having the right people who share a set of beliefs and philosophies. In Missouri, we now operate on the belief that all youth desire to do well and succeed. Sounds simple, but it reflects a significant change from the old model.

Mobilize a constituency. Sustainability and growth require constituency building. In Milwaukee, they began with a well-defined focus on the population they would serve, and these families became their most important supporters. They also tied proposed reform to other initiatives at the state and federal levels. In Missouri, we recruited a statewide advisory board comprised of respected citizens and civic leaders, but we also have community liaison councils and rely heavily on parents and families as allies. Maintaining transparency, showing empathy, building relationships and keeping the stories and messages positive are keys to mobilizing the support needed.

I think this is a valid framework from which to approach Change in Government, writ large.  As many of you know, I have been a zealot for Change in Government for years.  I have seen passionate people win battles, but lose wars and am on a mission to ensure that Governments succeed in their efforts to reform, long term.  It is not enough to feel a spirit of change every 3 to 4 years when a new leader gets installed or elected.  We must ensure that the permanent civil service and professional staff embrace change as part of what they do.

In order for that to work, we must have a lens through which this change makes sense.  A framework.  At the risk of sounding like a consultant, a model.

This great work is a great start (and a tip of the hat to Missouri and Milwaukee).

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One Response to “Milwaukee and Missouri: Creating Sustainable Change In Government”

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