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Kathy Martin is currently Chief Operating Officer for Caring Communities in Missouri. Caring Communities is Missouri's initiative to coordinate child and family services administered in five different departments: Mental Health, Health, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Labor and Industrial Relations. We asked Martin to answer questions on designing and implementing a results-based accountability system, focusing on lessons learned from Caring Communities.

1. Many people have expectations about implementing results-based accountability initiatives quickly and from the top down. What lessons have you learned in Missouri about approaches to effectively implementing a results-based accountability initiative?

Since we have not completed our implementation, I can only address the lessons learned so far. I am sure there will be many more along the way! One big challenge has been pressure to move too quickly. If you try to change the system too fast and too aggressively, you will never allow for the time necessary to garner support and foster buy-in. There are those who go for the immediate organizational “restructure” and they find moving the boxes really did not achieve the desired results. There are those who push for the legislation to drive the change-agenda and find that “interpreting” the legislation takes some time, let alone implementation.

It has been more successful in Missouri to build support and, once achieved, to allow that force to create the environment for authorization by the legislature. We have also found it more successful to create flexible “horizontal” organizational groupings rather than rigid organizational structures. In both instances, it has allowed for adaptations on an as-needed basis.

Another lesson learned is that immediate results need to be balanced with longer term incentives in order to garner support and keep the process moving. Change is never easy and changing governmental bureaucracies has its own unique set of challenges. Downsizing, limits on the number of employees, high case load averages all have an impact on trying to get workers to think creatively and with a long-term benefit as an ultimate goal.

In Missouri, some compare where we are to where we want to be and criticize the disparity. We feel very strongly that small steps have to be taken before you can run and it does not offend us to know that we are still a work-in-progress.

2. What are the challenges in defining state and local responsibility in developing and implementing a results-based accountability initiative?

Again, I think it is important to know what the state has to offer and how it can be reformulated for local use. There are usually immediate reactions from the local level about wanting to take over what they feel is not being done well. However, they are usually unaware of a lot of roles, because they in fact have done well and were not an issue. So mutual respect is an important goal to keep in mind.

Balance is very important to consider so that no one party maintains the “upper” hand. Although, I do caution that the shift is primarily from state to local and it does usually incorporate maintaining federal responsibilities, state statutory requirements and departmental missions within parameters of flexibility for locals.

In an effort to maintain focus and continue progress, it is important to remember that no “boiler plate” is going to work with individual communities. We have used an analogy much like the human development states. People develop faster in different areas. The same holds true with local communities. They will be able to move faster and develop capacity in disparate areas and that does not mean that they are behind or inadequate. They must be respected and appreciated for the recognizable development they can achieve, as long as they continue to mature and move forward. It also has helped to limit immediate expectations; unmet expectations will kill you!

3. What is the role of training in implementing a results-based accountability initiative?

Training is extremely important. We have focused on three broad areas:

  • external training relating to community development, capacity building, and mapping;
  • cross-agency training relating to the interrelationship of government policies; and
  • intra-agency training relating to the individual department missions and their relations to the overall change agenda.
Currently we are involved in horizontal training that simply focuses on history and overview of the initiative, the current status of our efforts, and an offering of examples and ideas around opportunities that will stimulate creativity and thoughtful input.

4. How does the organizational structure influence the implementation of a results-based accountability system?

We have found it extremely successful in garnering top-level commitment, while immediately focusing on front-line worker support around improvements to their daily work efforts. We feel it is important to obtain support before penetrating the mid-level bureaucracy. We have also constructed a flexible, horizontal structure around the reform agenda.

All five of our department directors meet quarterly as a group with four statewide community leaders as members of the Family Investment Trust board. The deputy directors of each department also meet every two weeks to focus solely on the reform agenda, Caring Communities. Each department identified one position as a Caring Communities Coordinator, the person dedicated to representing that individual department in the initiative. This position has been very helpful in responding for the departments in a consistent manner.

It was important to select a person to coordinate efforts who: (1) knows the legislature and has the ability to work with it; (2) knows funding and has an understanding of how budgets drive reform initiatives; (3) has a background knowledge of the individual government agencies and of the big picture; and (4) would be unanimously appointed, have credibility and the confidence of all involved state agencies.

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