Home TOC Previous Next

How can we better understand
Outcome Drift?

On the surface, the Helping
Triangle suggests a static model where the elements remain constant over time.
Were this the case, containing outcome drift would be a very complex but less
daunting process than it actually is. The reality is the elements of the model
are not static and the interaction among the elements is also not static. They
are, in fact, dynamic and more or less unstable.

If we focus on potential
clients, at least two factors change over time. First, the coping difficulties
potential clients are experiencing change. Their circumstances and situations
change as does their ability to adequately cope. This combined change leads to
minor to significant change in the problems needing supports and services.
Additionally, the specific people in the potential client group change over
time. This adds to the dynamic nature of the issues needing attention. The
people being helped today are not the same people who will need help tomorrow.
What they need today is not quite the same as what they will need tomorrow.
Services appearing to be a good fit today may fit less well tomorrow.

As we move our focus to the
Initiators, the dynamics seen for potential clients continue up the left side
of the triangle. Membership in the Initiator group changes over time as do
members’ understanding of the problem and what they think it will take to help.
They develop new and modified proposals and strategies they take to the
Authorizers. Although these dynamics are present within all organizational
structures, they are particularly pronounced when the authorizing entity is
governmental. There more so than in private or religious organizations, there
likely is more than one initiator group, e.g.,
lobbying group. The result is multiple and frequently competing proposals to be
considered by the Authorizers.

As focus moves on to the
Authorizers, there are several dynamics contributing to further instability
within the Helping Triangle. There are competing demands on the resources of
the authorizing entity. There are other service areas needing and deserving
their support. Additionally, the resources of the authorizing entity are
neither unlimited nor constant. Sometimes, the Authorizers have access to more
resources and sometimes fewer. They also have varying priorities so the
specific project may receive higher and lower priority from time to time.
Beyond these issues, the specific members of the Authorizer group periodically
change so the level of support for and interest in any specific project or
problem area also changes.

Focus next moves to the
Implementers. The same types of dynamics operate here. Just as the Authorizers
likely have multiple priorities and competing demands, the Implementers are
likely working with more than one authorizing entity and more than one
Authorizer group. Few human services agencies operate under the auspices of a
single entity. Typically, agencies have multiple funders, one or more
certification or accreditation entities, governmental regulation in one or more
areas, and such. This means they have multiple sets of restrictions and
expectations with some degree of inconsistency and incompatibility.
Additionally, membership in the Implementer group changes as do the
perspectives, strategies, and opinions of the Implementers. These dynamics
inevitably lead to instability within the organization and structure of the
agency. Both are dynamic and subject to expected and unexpected change.

As the Implementers move to
establish the human services agency, they likely use some variation of what are
by far the two most common structures for the agency. They hire an Administrator who reports directly to the primary
authorizing entity or establish an administrative Board that hires a Chief
Executive Officer – CEO – who reports
to the Board. The Board is in turn responsible to the authorizing entity. Under
either arrangement, the Administrator
or CEO manages the agency, using the resources and authority delegated to him
(or her) by either the authorizing entity or the Board. – For the present
purpose, I use a model including an administrative Board that hires a CEO,
although the discussion below applies to both arrangements.

The internal agency structure
in turn divides into service providers and support staff. There is normally
further subdivision into multiple services and multiple support functions. For
all but the smallest agencies, there is also vertical division into line staff,
Supervisors, Managers, and so on. The result is a complex structure with
multiple components or operating units. This agency structure develops
stability over time and takes on a semi-permanent quality. It is also
internally dynamic in that the staff members change over time and the
priorities of staff within the agency change as well. The result is a
semi-stable entity that maintains its structure while dynamic processes are
occurring inside. This structure – the human services agency – can easily
become a closed universe affected little by outside change forces and
pressures. It does what it does and does it how it does it because that is the
way it does it. Any internal or external attempts to introduce new or modified
strategies, methods, or procedures are typically difficult and often
unsuccessful. This is particularly true if the wanted changes also require
change or re-negotiation with the Implementers or Authorizers.

Home TOC Previous Next