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What are Exceptions Maps?

In principle, a human services agency eco system, in the absence of entropy or drift, sustains its functioning indefinitely. It is a self-managing system. In this ideal system, each element serves its designated function correctly and consistently. The people in the system function predictably and as expected. The system is configured optimally. All relationships and interactions are as intended. To successfully manage Social Services, Inc. – SSI – we keep this ideal eco system in mind. Our management of SSI is successful to the extent we achieve the ideal. Each exception in the SSI eco system is an indicator our management is not quite observant enough, insightful enough, creative enough, or persistent enough. Our goal is to prevent, reduce, or eliminate the exceptions in order to adjust SSI’s eco system functioning so it more nearly conforms to the ideal.  No qualitative or quantitative restrictions are placed on exceptions. There are no exceptions that are unimportant or acceptable just because they are minor or of a certain type. Some exceptions are certainly more significant than others but none is inconsequential. Every exception is an indicator of drift and cannot simply be ignored. It may not represent an urgent issue or major concern, but it is nonetheless evaluated. SSI Managers are aware of and understand the significance of all exceptions. They know those exceptions are potentially cumulative and are the only indicators they will ever get that the SSI eco system is not conforming to the ideal.

We can use Figure 8 as a convenient way of organizing our understanding of our management task. The Figure has four columns to include the pertinent information. The first column lists the elements on which we are focusing. The second column includes a brief statement describing the purpose or function of the specific element. The third column includes the Indicator we use to track the current state of the element. The fourth column shows what Intervention we use if the Indicator in the third column shows us the element is not currently at the ideal state. If there is a need to intervene, changes in the current Indicator in column three let us know whether or not the intervention is working as intended.

Recall the Secondary Functions Circle illustrated in Figure 5. The secondary SSI functions are located around the outer circle, with the primary services functions around the inner circle. On the outer circle we find the Executive Function, the Fiscal Services Function, the Administrative Services Function, and so on. On the inner circle we find Assessment Services, Family Counseling, and Case Management. The system is designed so the secondary functions support the primary functions.

At a high level, we complete the Exceptions Map illustrated in Figure 8 for the agency eco system – the local Helping Triangle – previously illustrated in Figure 1. The elements around the Helping Triangle become the elements listed in our Exceptions Map, and fill the first column of Figure 8.

Including the elements from the Helping Triangle, the first column of the Exceptions Map for the local eco system includes; Potential Clients, Initiators, Authorizers, Implementers, The Agency, and The Providers. In the second column of the Exceptions Map, we include a brief statement describing the purpose of each element. For example, the purpose of Potential Clients is to use and benefit from available services. The purpose of Initiators is to develop and sustain authorization and auspices for appropriate and needed services for Potential Clients. The purpose of Authorizers is to provide sufficient, continuing authorization and auspices for the agency to operate and to deliver the authorized services. The other three elements similarly have purposes that should be included in the Exceptions Map. An interesting exercise is to complete the Exceptions Map with purpose or function statements for the last three elements in the first column.

The next step is to develop an Indicator for each element. The Indicator is a measure of how closely the element is to the ideal, a measure of the extent to which the element is serving its intended purpose. The current state of the Indicator is then tracked in column three of the Exceptions Map. For example, an Indicator for the Potential Clients element might be the number of appropriate clients from the Potential Client group who received SSI services during the proceeding month. This number is tracked in column three of the Exceptions Map. An Indicator for Initiators might be how often Initiators have interacted with Authorizers about SSI during the previous three months. An Indicator for Authorizers might be the frequency of positive transactions between SSI Leadership Team members and Authorizers during the past month. Each element requires multiple and significantly more sophisticated Indicators, but the examples here can suffice to demonstrate the process of developing the Exceptions Map. – As an additional exercise, develop Indicators for the last three elements in Figure 8 and consider other Indicators for each of the six elements included in the Figure.

The last step in creating the Exceptions Map is to develop Interventions expected to affect the Exceptions – changes in the Indicators – in ways shifting the functioning of the element more toward ideal functioning. We pursue this area more later. Here, let me simply make the point each element may have – and usually does have – more than a single purpose. At a minimum, most elements have a general purpose or function and multiple sub-purposes and sub-functions. For example, an element as relatively minor as the SSI waiting room within the Administrative Services secondary function has multiple purposes: client comfort, client convenience, entertainment while waiting – especially for children – as well as appointment scheduling, payment of fees and charges, welcoming SSI’s other guests, and so on. Similarly, tracking the element requires multiple Indicators. In turn, various Interventions are required to assure the waiting room is approaching the ideal for waiting room functioning, e.g., cleaning the carpet, adequacy of seating areas, lighting, access to restrooms, friendliness and helpfulness of the SSI receptionist, keeping books and toys in good repair, and the like. With this perspective in mind, look more closely at the six elements from The Helping Triangle as illustrated in Figure 8. – Before proceeding, give some consideration to the types of Interventions we might use to affect the Indicators included in the Figure and those added through the above exercise.

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