Nicola and I were very excited to attend our first of ANCOR’s annual conferences this past week. We both attended a number of sessions and the quality of the content was exceptional and extremely relevant. Resoundingly, what I took away from the conference was that the social service sector is changing rapidly - largely for the positive - and agencies are working hard to keep up with and adapt to this new landscape. Here are some hot topics that were discussed at the conference:
Reporting on Outcomes
I attended a really interesting session on the Personal Outcomes Model of reporting on client progress. Across the sector we’re seeing a big push towards reporting on outcomes and showing that programs are having a measurable and sustained positive effect on participants.
What really resonated for me during this session was the fundamental difference between focusing/reporting on functional outcomes vs the outcomes that really matter to program participants. I think that, unfortunately, functional outcomes are easier to measure quantitatively and are therefore easier and more frequently reported on. However, when we think about the end goal of social service organizations – helping participants learn new life skills to develop and grow as human beings – they come up short.
Personal outcomes are things that are really important (and motivating) to those working in the industry and, in turn, each individual being supported. They are things like having a career, financial stability, independence, and family. Focusing on personal outcomes such as these empowers individuals in the goal setting process, and by focusing on personal outcome goals you can often achieve pre-determined functional goals as well – they’re not mutually exclusive.
The End of the Sheltered Workshop
Another hot topic at ANCOR was that of the sheltered workshops that are slowly being phased out across the US and Canada - a trend that is very much linked to outcomes-based funding models.
Across the sector, agencies are recognizing that sheltered workshops are not ideal environments for the development of new skills, career development, or the generation of personal income. Funding is likely to soon disappear for this model of support – this is already happening in some areas – and is instead going to programs that focus on real community-based options for employment.
While the decision-making and strategic planning to enact these changes might take place at the executive level, the real work of implementing change takes place at the front lines. While the rationale for changes are numerous, successfully implementing these changes requires buy-in from an agency’s entire workforce.
Building a communications plan to really engage your front line workforce is one of the major keys to success, as is appreciating some of the emotional factors that trigger resistance to change, such as fear of job security. For example, the role of the DSP is changing – fewer work in day programs like sheltered workshops and more are actively involved in employment support – and this is a huge shift that requires adequate planning to ensure staff are prepared to make this transition.
Ultimately, my biggest takeaway from ANCOR this year is that the social service sector as a whole is undergoing significant change. Good change management, a crucial part of good leadership, holds the key to successfully transitioning to these new modes of operation. We’d love to hear about your key takeaways from this year’s ANCOR conference and can’t wait to join you again next year!