08/22/2012 - Solution-Focused Thinking Across the Entire Service Delivery System – Making the Vision a Reality, Part 2 of 2

In the first part of this blog entry, Iain DeJong of OrgCode Consulting gave the first five insights he’s gained while working with communities across the country retooling their community plans. He continues his insights in Part 2. Missed Part 1? Read it here.

6. What is written must be the same as what’s doing if coordination is going to work.

For a system-based approach to ending homelessness to work – which is especially important  in communities mid-sized and larger – we need to know exactly what type(s) of people each service provider serves or does not serve. It needs to be explicit. If there are exceptions, we need to know how and under what circumstances those exceptions will be considered.

One of the most time-consuming but important tasks for a community that is moving to a system-based approach to undertake is getting each provider to put down on paper (okay, or in an email) the exact details of their program. For example, if an individual has to be (or demonstrate) sobriety for a period of time first, we need to know that; if the building is not wheelchair accessible, we need to know that – and so on.

I have heard some providers lament that a system-based approach takes away their autonomy. They want “side doors” to bring people into their programs as they see fit. My statement to them is always the same – if you are awesome at what you do and do what you say that you do then having someone else filter who best your organization can serve is one less thing for you to worry about.

7. Re-think metrics of success (beyond filling beds).

Around the globe there are problems in Human Services generally that still confuse outputs with outcomes. If you want to have a system-based approach to ending homelessness realize first and foremost that this is a quality business, not a quantity business. The measure of success is not the volume of people served as if they are widgets moving down an assembly line. The measure of success is the number of people that are assisted in accessing and maintaining housing, whose lives are changed as a direct result of the service you provided.

There are many cost-effective strategies that can be used to glean information on the quality of life outcomes for those served by an organization, all of which provides critical information on how services as a whole in the system are working. You can use the same tool in case management supports as assessment that is already in place, but add more questions that point to their growth and stability. Or you can generate very simple quality of life surveys for recipients of services to provide commentary on how their lives have changed.

8. Report. Report. Report.

Consider reframing  what you do as being in the business of ending homelessness. With that mentality in mind the transparency and frequency of reporting becomes paramount. If we own the message and the data we can prove to a range of constituencies that what we are doing matters, makes a difference, and is a good use of money.

To do that, frontline staff need to have time to enter data as part of the “real work”; not as something that happens after the “real work” is done. Inputs into an HMIS need to have timely public reports instead of being lost in a black hole or with considerable time delays. And the reports need to be apparent: posted on websites, used in newsletters, talked about in staff meetings, discussed at board meetings, etc. I’ve even seen some progressive providers be completely transparent with their data with the clients they serve…what a novel, empowering idea.

9. Inspire new ways of thinking and doing.

We should be constantly challenging ourselves to get better. Each community should be connected with people that excel at changing the nature of the conversation, introducing new ideas, pollinating budding potential, etc.

One of the greatest ways to make this inspiration real at a system level is to rethink local or state conferences on ending homelessness. Bring in speakers with the ability to inspire with the experience and chops of service delivery to back up what they say. Let them be provocative and challenging while proving alternative ways of looking at the issue. Watch the conversation change in your local system.

10. Make mistakes. Just don’t kill anybody.

A mistake is just another way of doing things.

Never have I experienced a community moving to a system-wide approach get it perfect out of the gate. The ones that do the best work are the ones that focus their attention on learning from their implementation and tweaking as they go. Emerging thoughts and evidence from the private business start-up world supports this approach.

We will have the best laid intentions in our plans. Don’t be afraid to readdress parts of your plans when actions demonstrate something different than what you were hoping for.

11. A barrier isn’t a barrier, just an obstacle that hasn’t been conquered yet.

This sounds like a business school cliché but it is real if we want to revolutionize the local approach to ending homelessness. Systems must strategically identify those obstacles and develop action plans to address each one in due time. Solution-focused thinkers continue to challenge the thought process necessary to solve problems or create efficient work-arounds.

For example, some communities lament low welfare rates or arduous processes for accessing benefits, while others have developed partnerships with state or local leaders in charge of benefit administration; some communities are challenged by health care restrictions, while others have been chomping at the bit and preparing to be innovative in the era of new health legislation; and so on.

12. Prioritize clients, investments and change.

The bite-chew ratio has to be just right or a community will choke on the workload as they move towards a system-based approach to service delivery. Strategically, each community has to prioritize the work that they are doing to maximize results. For example, in some communities training staff at service providers how to end homelessness in this new way may be the best first step before moving onto coordinated access. In another community, agreeing on a common assessment tool and training relevant parties on it may sequentially be more relevant than analyzing and improving the HMIS. Each community needs to focus on their capacity as it aligns with this new vision, and then, get going.


Iain De Jong is the President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting, an international consulting firm focused on ending homelessness, driving change to promote community prosperity and challenging the status quo. Iain’s work has garnered many international awards and accolades for impact on housing, homelessness, social and health policy. A frequent keynote speaker, conference presenter and trainer, Iain writes a very popular blog that strongly emphasis ending homelessness (which you can find at, by following him @orgcode on Twitter) and very popular guest blogs for the likes of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a faculty position in the Graduate Planning Programme at York University.

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