by Jim McDonough, Managing Director, Programs & Services, Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University
Napoleon is quoted as saying “Give me enough ribbon and I will conquer the world.” According to Col. Richard D. Hooker Jr., U.S. Army Retired, in his recently published Army Magazine article “Good Leaders Know Value of Recognizing the Deserving,” Napoleon knew that far more than money or comfort, solders crave the respect and approbation of their peers, superiors and subordinates.
That selfless motivation, exhibited by most soldiers I served with, exemplifies the spirit we’re seeing exhibited by a growing number of community partners leading the charge to “conquer the world…” of service delivery within their own little corner of the world, their communities. As a leadership cohort organizing around collective impact principles being introduced to transform the means by which service members, veterans and their families access services, resources and care in their communities, these community leaders are beginning to tackle a nagging and vexing problem for their ‘soldier-citizen-families,’ whose means for accessing services today consists of ‘hunting and pecking’ for resources to address the multitude of issues they’re confronting following their military service – navigation through it all being most pressing.
While not a problem exclusively unique to this military-connected population (human services in general remain one of the most fragmented segments within the social services sector), what is fairly unique is that these community leaders are taking on solving the universal problem of service navigation and access for an even more fragmented portion of the social services space – veteran’s services.
If you stop to consider for a moment that most veteran services in this nation are delivered by the public sector and long-standing Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), the majority of actual service offerings are built from the ground up with strict eligibility clauses and even more – membership criteria – serving as the defining basis of who receives services and to what extent those services are applied (duration of services, location, etc.). The result is a chaotic maze of ‘yes, we do this, but not that here’ answers for service members, veterans and their family members when they’re the most vulnerable, at a time of great individual or collective crisis. Even more striking, most of these services are organized solely around chronic sets of conditions plaguing another segment of the American population, the homeless, the addicted, the unemployed, etc., of which our veterans and their families unfortunately also belong. On a preventative basis, no amount of ribbon is going to be applied at any time soon to prevent these sets of deplorable conditions from occurring at an increasing cadence.
To begin countering this continuing tragedy, the community-based AmericaServes leadership cohort is re-thinking their community’s entire service delivery experience by first reorganizing existing fragmented, individual service delivery providers into coordinated networks of services, resources and care that pull the best organizations from the public, nonprofit and private sector – the VA, DoD Installations, community-based nonprofits. Secondly, AmericaServes leaders are now connecting all their network providers digitally, using a common technology overlay, that serves as the basis for making referrals between network providers (much like healthcare today). As an interconnected network, providers can now enjoy doing what they do best while relying upon other network providers to do the same. In principle and practice, a new, more efficient and effective marketplace of services is unfolding in AmericaServes communities where today, network providers know and understand what their fellow providers are doing at all times thanks to the introduction of long overdue technological innovation that seemingly bypassed veteran services for years.
At the center of every AmericaServes community lies a fully functioning team of credentialed professionals within what is referred to as a ‘Coordination Center,’ whose sole function is to triage need(s), prioritize a plan of attack to address the need(s) identified, digitally connect the individual to the ‘right’ service provider – defined as one that matches up best to address the identified need(s) – and track the entire service delivery experience all the way to closure in a systems-oriented, protocol-based manner. And finally, every AmericaServes team regularly connects with clients served to better assess whether the resources and services being applied have helped in solving the problem(s) identified.
At their very core, AmericaServes community leaders and providers are taking direct responsibility for navigating individuals to the best point of service based on their individual need(s). Importantly, insights into the nearly 10,000 cases now being addressed across AmericaServes networks reveals that for every one unique individual or family member being served, they’re presenting on average almost two unique needs. No amount of ribbon could support any one organization in any community the means by which to solve every person’s needs. Instead, a pattern of service delivery underpins every AmericaServes community where dozens of community-based providers work together on a coordinated basis to share in solving people’s needs. What enables that coordination? Technology, and importantly, common technology in the hands of every network provider – people – who see how their fellow providers in sister organizations are solving another aspect of an individual’s needs. That’s a huge advantage these leaders would tell you, and one their providers tell them that allows providers to focus more on what they do best while instilling greater trust and confidence across these networks.
In 2017, these community-based leaders will begin helping to establish actual network-level outcomes based on standards for service delivery within their communities. Two variables – timeliness and appropriateness – will serve as the basis for creating these standards of performance. Very soon, AmericaServes communities will be able to relay service delivery expectations to their military-connected members and their families around accessing services in their community. Imagine that for a moment. Letting someone know when they will be connected to a provider. Not just any provider, but the provider most appropriate to address an individual’s actual need(s).
Standards, love it. Takes me back to serving as a soldier. Maybe the world of service delivery can be conquered after all, albeit one community at a time.