As any educator, service provider, or family member who has been involved in interagency collaboration will tell you, collaboration isn't rocket science. It's harder! The process of bringing together diverse individuals, organizations, and viewpoints around the goal of improving services to young people and their families can be challenging and time-consuming at best and frustrating and fruitless at worst.
Yet there are several compelling reasons why these hurdles must be overcome. First of all, politically, government is being called on to be more efficient, to “reinvent itself" (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992) in ways that will cut costs and increase productivity. Philosophically, groups like the Communitarian Network (Etizioni, 1993) are pushing for services and lifestyles that encourage rights and responsibilities. Economically, public and private service agencies must determine ways to work together efficiently, so that rapidly shrinking resources can be stretched farther and used in more effective ways. The mandates are clear-but how can agencies and communities work together to meet them successfully?
In my 25 years facilitating change initiatives, I have discovered that by patterning these efforts according to a six-step model for change, collaboration can become not only effective but exciting. One successful example of this process in action that I have helped lead is the Families, Agencies, and Communities Together (FACT) initiative, which has as its goal the improvement of educational achievement, health, safety, and economic well-being of Utah's most needy citizens. Since 1989, Utah has been engaged in this multi -agency initiative designed to address the needs of children and youth at risk and their families. FACT's development to date exemplifies the six-step model for change: a values-based change initiative that recognizes its context, is based on a clearly articulated mission, and is endeavoring to build the structure and provide the tools and support required to achieve its goals.
As several authors (Fullan, 1993; Peters, 1987; Senge, 1990) have taught us in various ways, successful businesses, organizations, and initiatives are those that understand their place in the context of their work. This change model suggests that before one establishes a strategic mission, one must analyze the interactions that the initiative has with the world around it. As FACT is attempting to change the way the business of service provision is done, understanding the many ways services had been provided in the past was a necessary first step for those involved in the initiative.
The second part of the model is values, which must be identified to serve as the basis for any change initiative. Covey (1994) suggested that the power of a shared vision, based on values, is that it leads to “synergistic empowerment," which encourages all involved to live from their imaginations rather than from their histories. Sergiovanni (1990) proposed that schools should establish a “covenant" based on shared values. Brendtro et al. (1990) stated that a successful school is one that is bound together by shared values.
FACT has identified such a set of values that provides the foundation for the initiative's work. These values state that services provided to at-risk young people and their families should be:
1. Family-Centered: Families
are equal partners in the development, implementation, and evaluation of
services for children and youth at risk.
2. Child-Focused: In the context of the child's family, the emphasis is on meeting the needs of the child.
3. Community-Based: Each community is given the opportunity to find its own best way to meet the needs of its children and youth at risk and their families.
4. Culturally Appropriate: Services and planning must be accomplished with sensitivity to the culture of the child and his or her family. While always important, the increasing diversity of the United States makes this value imperative.
5. Collaborative: Equal partners representing families, agencies, and communities will coalesce to develop a unified plan of services, which accomplishes more than the sum of non-coordinated services.
6. Accountable: FACT is trying to change the game from one of procedure-following to outcome-achieving.
These values statements are not just words on a page but are being actualized in communities all across the state of Utah that are coming together to develop solutions consistent with these shared values.
The next step in a successful change initiative is to set a strategic direction, or mission, for the initiative that is based on shared values. William Cook of Cambridge Management Group, Inc. (1991) defines strategic planning as the process of continually recreating an organization toward an extraordinary purpose. With that process in mind, the mission of FACT was written as follows:
Families, Agencies, and Communities Together will develop, promote, and deliver child-focused, family-centered, community-based, and culturally appropriate services which improve the health, safety, education, and economic well–being of children in Utah.
This mission statement suggests that success will be achieved only when children and youth at risk are healthy, safe, academically successful, and are economically secure. Although this is clearly an “extraordinary purpose" (and a very daunting task), it is appropriate for an initiative endeavoring to change the way business is done.
Why is so much attention paid to the creation of shared values and a mission statement in the FACT initiative? We who are dedicated full time to the goal of reaching and reclaiming children and youth at risk must remember that key decision makers who control policy and financial directions are not automatically going to rush to the support of an initiative like FACT. In Utah, most of these decision makers are small “business people who are having various degrees of success with their own endeavors. To influence these decision makers, we must learn to interact with them on their terms-business terms-rather than on ours. Current literature in business is clear that the development of shared values and mission statements are essential prerequisites for the success of any busi–ness. When collaborating with the business community, this must become true for educators and service providers as well.
The remaining three components of the model describe the practical aspects of change. First, to be successful with a mission, a structure must be built and reinforced that supports the mission. FACT is experimenting with such structures at the state, county, and community levels.
At the state level, FACT is directed by a council comprised of the agency directors from Education, Health, Human Services, the Courts, and Workforce Services. A steering committee with members representing families, agencies, and communities advises the council.
At the county level, each of Utah's 29 counties has a Local Interagency Council with representatives from families, agencies, and communities. These LICs are granted a flexible pool of resources with which to resolve difficult issues that surface as communities endeavor to meet child, youth, and family needs.
At the community level, several programs have been piloted including a school-based model of collaboration in 107 elementary school communities as well as several prenatal to age five programs in urban and rural areas of the state.
Overall, one important element in the development of this essential structure is the implementation of incentives for communities. Given all of the federal, state, county, and, in some cases, even city requirements, why would a community gather to develop a plan for a community-based, collaborative service delivery system? The FACT Council has offered one important incentive that seems to be getting the attention of communities across our state. The FACT Council has promised the legislature and the governor that it will forward requests for increased funding based on community needs. Those communities that organize quickly will have the best chance to have their needs met through this process. As this information has become known, more and more communities are gathering to develop comprehensive plans.
Also, in the 1996 legislative session, a bill was passed to further encourage the development of community-based, collab“Orative service delivery systems. Communities are given the opportunity to submit their long- and short-range vision for serving children and youth at risk (ages prenatal to grade 12) and their families. When accepted by the FACT Council, these visions will be supported by incentives that include waivers of rules, facilitation of planning, and responsive acknowledgment of community needs as legislative funding initiatives are built by state agencies.
Even with a solid structure, participants in any change initiative will not be equipped to accomplish the promise of its strategic mission if they do not possess appropriate tools. To address this need, FACT is encouraging training across agencies, which gives staff members the skills required to serve individual clients and to become change agents, equipped to facilitate systems change (Fullan, 1993). FACT training has also been conducted around the state for families and communities.
An unexpected, but now obvious, need is the development of facilitation skills which allow community members to take leadership in developing their own FACT comprehensive plans. In John McKnight's book, The Careless Society (1995), he persuasively argues that we have professionalized our assistance to communities in a way that actually creates antagonism and helplessness. The FACT initiative supports Me Knight by providing the tools communities say they need so that they can take the lead while county, state, and federal governments support these important initiatives.
The last aspect of the model is support. No change initiative will succeed unless all actors at all levels feel supported to continue along the risky path of significant change. According to Covey (1989), this support starts from the inside, with an unwavering commitment to the values of the change initiative. All change participants must, in short, possess a style identified by Viktor Frankl (1959) as “tragic optimism." Given his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl found that those who survived had a sense of tragic optimism, simultaneously accepting the inevitable tribulations of life while keeping an eternal sense of hopefulness.
In FACT, teams deal daily with tremendously difficult situations. Without this sense of optimism, teams would not be able to continue to confront the day-to-day crises involved in serving children and youth at risk and their families. FACT is dedicated to supporting these community-based teams with staff development, rule waivers, and appropriate funding to ensure their success.
Communities that have tried to meet the needs of their youth and families at risk without the assistance of county, state, and federal resources have failed miserably. Counties and states that have dictated more than the “what" of community development have likewise failed miserably. Only when all levels of government synergistically work toward the same end, supporting one another, will systems change occur (Covey, 1989).
A “Change Sandwich"
FACT celebrates Pascale's (1990) concept of the “change sandwich," eloquently described in Fullan's masterpiece, Change Forces (1993). FACT combines values-based, top-down direction and support with bottom-up flexibility for finding community-based solutions. When families, agencies, and communities come together in this manner, children and youth succeed. Although collaboration is indeed harder than rocket science, it's well worth the effort!
Brendtro, L. K ., Brokenleg, M., & Van Bockern, S. (1990). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
Cambridge Management Group, Inc. (1991). Strategic planning for education. Montgomery, AL.
Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Covey, S. R. (1994). First things first. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Etizioni, A. (1993). The spirit of community. New York: Touchstone.
Frankl, V. E. (1959). Man's search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books.
Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces. London: The Falmer Press.
McKnight, J. (1995). The careless society. New York: Basic Books.
Osbome, D., & Gaebler, T. (1992). Reinventing government. New York: Penguin Books.
Pascale, R. T. (1990). Managing on the edge. New York: Touchstone.
Peters, T. (1987). Thriving on chaos. New York: Harper and Row.
Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline. New York: Doubleday.
Sergiovanni, T. J. (1990). Value-added leadership. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
This feature: Kukic, J.S. (1997). Collaboration Isn’t Rocket Science – It’s Harder and Worth the Effort! Reaching Today’s Youth, Fall 1997. pp.62-64.