Marketing challenges as systems change

by Anne Yurasek on February 14, 2008

In the last week, I have worked with several agencies serving the developmentally disabled community in both Rhode Island and Calgary. One of these engagements was with a group of organizations seeking to use their existing trade association as a base for deeper collaboration in order to deal with the major changes in how services in this field are funded. Another was a board retreat to help an organization choose a planning model that would suit their field and a third was an ongoing process of strategic assessment, reporting out the results of our internal review of climate and management systems in an effort to prepare this organization for the significant challenges ahead. So what’s going on?

This work is among the most interesting aspects of our practice right now. The Developmental Disability Field is facing a significant change in consumer expectations as the generation of children raised in community environments reaches adulthood. Many of these children bring complex medical and behavioral challenges due to the sources of their developmental delays as well as expectations that they will live in community. At the same time, people with developmental disabilities who were raised in institutions, and then moved to group homes when those institutions closed, are aging, reaching life spans that were unheard of just 25 years ago. The system, then, must meet the needs of an ever larger group of consumers. In fact, the field of developmental disabilities is struggling to meet these challenges in every country of the developed world. The challenge is to take the community based residential system that was built as a result of closing major institutions and allow it to evolve into a system of supports for people who live in their own homes. The current residential system is, in almost everyone’s estimation, not sustainable through another generation and perhaps not sustainable for the current population that is aging in place.

The issue of sustainability is made more pressing for the Rhode Island system due to the budget problems of state government and is exacerbated in Calgary by a shortage of direct care employees. Care must be taken, however, not to define the problem as either the need to absorb significant cuts in funding from the state or as the need to secure a stable workforce. To do so will result in less than thoughtful solutions to what will be long term challenges. The problem is how to create a system that will provide a wide array of services efficiently and effectively to all who need them while generating sufficient funds to pay for those services.

One means of getting to efficiency by government is this service system’s experiments with voucher systems. What were once contracts for groups of consumers became individually funded plans. These individual plans have now become Family Administered Funds in Calgary and are about to become vouchers in Rhode Island. Essentially funds are placed directly in the hands of family or guardians who then make the choice of services and the choice of providers. This means that organizations whose primary customer has always been offices of government must market directly to consumers and their families.

There was an article in this morning’s Providence Journal about a partner at Continuum in Boston who spoke at a local college. Gianfranco Zaccai talked about how this innovative company designs products (think the Reebok pump and the Swiffer). He spoke of the need to think about the emotional response to products and services in design. As DD agencies consider how to adjust to this new reality, this will be a central concept…thinking through the journey of choice for a family or guardian, anticipating the “touch points” of first contact through contracting. This transition will require far greater understanding of managing customer relationships through the purchasing process.

We will write more about how agencies are meeting this challenge as the various strategies emerge.

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