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Chapter Eight: Meta Management

By this
point in our discussion, it is clear a human services agency is not a
self-contained entity. It is a system of interacting, interdependent functions
and sub-functions. This synergistic system does not have identifiable
boundaries but can be conceptually limited to the scope of the Helping Triangle discussed earlier – see
Figure 1. The agency – point “C” on the Helping Triangle – can itself
then be understood as a sub-system within the Helping Triangle. A human
services agency is a complex arrangement of systems within systems, in turn,
comprised of multiple functions and sub-functions. Collectively, these elements
and their relationships and interactions are the agency eco system. Additionally, the functions and sub-functions within
the agency itself – point “C” on the Helping Triangle – are the internal eco system, with the rest of
the Helping Triangle understood as the agency eco system or simply as the eco system. For the present purpose,
our focus is on the internal eco system.

As we
saw earlier, the primary function of our fictional agency, Social Services,
Inc., is to provide assessment, family counseling, and case management services
to children to improve their behavior and adjustment at home and school. Within
SSI’s internal eco system, there are secondary functions – see Figure 5 – such
as Fiscal Services and Administrative Services to support the primary function.
The primary function and its supporting, secondary functions, in turn, each has
its own sub-functions. We can understand each of these secondary functions and
sub-functions as individual systems with specific and specialized duties,
responsibilities, and expected outcomes. Within the SSI internal eco system, we
see the nesting of systems within systems, functions within functions. The goal
of SSI management is to maintain the SSI internal eco system so it continues to
support and successfully sustain SSI’s primary function: children coping more
successfully with the needs, problems, and vulnerabilities in their lives.

Chapter Four, we discussed the notion of entropy. We saw the SSI eco system
tends to transition toward disorganization and chaos over time. This tendency
was characterized as drift, with its
effects being seen in all eco system functions and within the system itself.
The tendency toward disorganization and chaos exists within the internal eco
system as certainly as within the external eco system. Drift is pervasive
throughout the SSI eco system, externally and internally. We can think about
drift as constant and continuous. Its effects at any time may be more or less,
but drift is an unchanging constant. It is only possible to influence the
effects and not the tendency itself.

the above perspective in mind, we re-conceptualize SSI Management’s
responsibility in this area as minimizing
drift within SSI’s internal eco system
. The reality is there are only three
ways to do this:

the effect.

the system.

or replace system elements.

three options are relatively straightforward for non-staff elements in the eco
system. For example, SSI records are filed in cabinets in alphabetical order.
Over time, the system tends to drift
toward disorganization and chaos. Records are misfiled and cannot be located.
Drift can be slowed by regularly
reminding people to use the system correctly and by periodic, required
training. Drift may be minimized by reconfiguration
including moving the cabinets to an area where there is better light, only
permitting designated people to put files into the cabinets or remove them, or
by subdividing the records into smaller sections so misfiled records are easier
to find. The chaos may be minimized by repairing
the cabinet drawers or the rods on which the files hang. The system may be replaced by an electronic records system
that is easier to maintain and use. However we approach the entropy in the
filing system, its effects can be minimized by using one of the three
strategies, i.e., by slowing its
effects, by reconfiguration, or by repair or replacement.

Let me
take a moment to clarify the concepts. Drift
is a constant factor in the SSI eco system. It is the unavoidable tendency of
the eco system to transition toward disorganization, chaos, and
ineffectiveness. Exceptions are, in
turn, the effect of drift. They are deviations from the ideal. If we do not
notice and correct these exceptions, they intensify and spread. Sooner or
later, they represent real jeopardy for the eco system itself.
Let me also note the ideal is achievable in principle but not in practice.
Exceptions are thus omnipresent. Further, our understanding of the ideal
changes as we gain additional knowledge and experience, leading to concurrent changes
in how we understand and define exceptions.

Indicators are
signs or symptoms letting us know exceptions are present in the SSI eco system.
Something has shifted away from the ideal. Intervention,
in turn, represents our response to identified exceptions. We can ignore
exceptions, although this likely leads to further deterioration of the SSI eco
system.  We can wait and see, although
this too likely leads to further eco system deterioration. Better is to do today’s
work today. We should reduce or eliminate the exception and, if possible,
prevent its recurrence. We intervene, with the intervention including some mix
of slowing, reconfiguration, and repair and replacement. System Drift results in Exceptions detected by Indicators prompting

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