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How are human services agencies created? (Iteration Two)

In Iteration One, we saw human services agencies are the end product of a complex process, starting with the action of the First Mover who sees people – potential clients – experiencing difficulty coping with their day-to-day circumstances. The First Mover recruits the Initiators who pursue auspices and associated resources through the Authorizers. The Implementers then develop the elements needed to create a human services agency where appropriate supports and services are available to the people who need them. The Providers then encourage use of the services by appropriate clients. If all goes well, potential clients are reclassified as clients, service provision proceeds, and the Helping Triangle is closed.

The First Mover and the potential client are at point “A” on the Helping Triangle. If developing a human services agency were not the preferred outcome, the First Mover could simply talk with the potential client and then do something they both thought might help. Instead, the First Mover turns away to enlist the assistance of the Initiators shown along the left side of the triangle. Even if potential clients participate in the Initiator group – and they frequently do not – there is a serious, potential misfit between the person/problem and the problem/solution.

The Initiators develop a problem definition only more or less coinciding with the unique needs, problems, or vulnerabilities with which the individuals at point “A” are struggling to cope. Let’s refer to this potential misfit as problem drift. The Initiators in turn develop a strategy for helping with the needs, problems, and vulnerabilities included in the problem as they define it. Given the noted problem drift, the proposed solution has a tendency to shift away from what might actually help. Refer to this as initiation drift. It is tempting to argue skilled people would never let problem drift and initiation drift happen. The fact is neither is fully preventable. Both are, to a more or less extent, unavoidable. The challenge is to introduce meta-processes minimizing their extent and affect.

Once the Initiators settle on their definition of the problem and their proposed solution, they take their proposal to the Authorizers at point “B”. There the proposal is further shaped to better fit the requirements, expectations, perceptions, and preferences of the Authorizers. Additionally, the Authorizers add restrictions and requirements consistent with their interests and judgments about what should be done and how it should be done. The result is only more or less what the Initiators requested. We can refer to this reframing as authorization drift.

The Implementers then proceed to follow through with the project as authorized. They will move the process along, conforming to a more or less extent with the Authorizers’ specifications. Their goal is to put the agency in place at point “C”. The movement of implementation away from the vision held by the Authorizers is what I call implementation drift. The resulting agency and its surrounding structures and connections are never quite what the Authorizers have in mind when they approve the project.

Along the bottom of the Helping Triangle are the Providers. They connect points “C” and “A” through the supports and services envisioned by the First Mover, the help the First Mover would have offered had he (or she) simply talked with the potential client and then done something they both thought might help. There is only a more or less match between the services delivered and the help to which the potential client and the First Mover would likely have agreed. Refer to this disparity as services drift.

The cumulative process is apparent. Problem drift combines with initiation drift that in turn combines with authorization drift. That then combines with implementation drift and eventually with services drift. An exact match between help needed and services received is at least unlikely and more probably, not possible. Let’s refer to this cumulative mismatch as outcome drift, understanding it is the cumulative affect of problem, initiation, authorization, implementation, and services drift.

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