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ASU partners with DES to advance service integration

April 02, 2008

Arizona State University’s Partnership for Community Development (PCD) keeps on truckin’. From Litchfield Park further west to the community of Verrado, and from the Maryvale Revitalization Corporation to the Valley of the Sun United Way, the College of Human Services-based partnership is reaching out to build collaborative relationships among public and private community organizations to address critical community needs.

PCD’s most recent body of work features a partnership with the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and has resulted in the release of three reports on the successes and challenges surrounding an 18-month process shepherded by DES to create new forms of best practices in delivering social services to Arizona individuals, families and children.

Two years ago DES and PCD began partnering to evaluate the outcomes of the department’s efforts with individual, family and community partners who volunteered their time to provide personal experience and perspectives on existing programs and services available within their communities and through DES. The partnership, called the Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) on Service Integration, included 20 local community teams driven by family partners and supported by agency and community members. All 15 Arizona counties, including native American tribal communities, were represented in the statewide integration effort to improve outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable populations.

The reports detail 105 innovations and breakthroughs that were tested by state social service practitioners. The documents, as well as the technical advising that accompanied their creation, are being used to infuse the innovations throughout the DES organization, as well as throughout Arizona communities.

“In the case of this collaboration with DES, the department desired additional expertise in weaving connections between citizens, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and faith communities to build more responsive and efficient social service delivery systems,” says Richard Knopf, director of the PCD and associate dean and professor in ASU’s College of Human Services.

“The goal was to build the strength and self-sufficiency of Arizona families. The challenge was to find innovative ways to do so by gathering stakeholders with different kinds of resources and perspectives and having them imagine an ideal. This is what PCD does best. Through facilitation and research analysis, we help create solutions.”

Judith Fritsch and Susan Hallett, program administrators in DES’ Office of Community Partnerships and Innovative Practices (CPIP), led the efforts of the BSC. They say that the department touches more than 1 million Arizona residents daily through more than 50 different service programs. CPIP was created last year to increase and improve the connections among the DES programs and staff and with local community providers. The office also promote strengthening the individual and family voice on all levels and in all activities of the agency.

“We chose to work with the Partnership for Community Development because we had worked informally in the past with Dr. Knopf on the establishment of the West Valley Human Services Alliance,” says Fritsch. “PCD has a reputation for quality work in strategic planning, program evaluation, and crystallizing the assets and needs of Arizona communities. We knew Richard’s passion for strengthening communities.”

The PCD evaluation was conducted by faculty with expertise in program evaluation, survey instrumentation and social work to develop the evaluation strategy. Partnering with DES staff, the partnership developed a four-pronged evaluation approach: monitor BSC team activity; assess team evaluations resulting from three BSC Learning Summits; evaluate participants’ understanding of the BSC process, perceptions of team outcomes, and monitor team function and experiences; and conduct interviews and focus groups with teams and impacted family members throughout the state to assist in analyzing the challenges and success of the Breakthrough Series Collaborative.

The results from the four methodologies conveyed general support of team members for the collaborative process, and strong enthusiasm for the promise of its impact. Among the results were the many innovative strategies for serving Arizona families that were created, tested, refined and implemented.

“PCD became partners with DES in designing effective communications strategies, identifying success stories, and – most importantly – discovering ways to ‘spread’ these successes,” says Knopf. “This is a prime example of how two public service organizations can create synergy to dramatically improve the lives of Arizona families.”

As a result of the BSC, DES human service delivery systems were positively impacted in communities around the state, families were strengthened and self-sufficiency was enhanced. These successes transformed into new ways of doing business and leading to more effective forms of service, according to a 35-page report produced by the department, “Transforming the Lives of Individuals and Families in Arizona: The Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Service Integration.”

DES has retained PCD to work with its Child Welfare program to assist with the evaluation of its in-home preservation efforts.

“The innovative ideas and the lessons learned through our partnership with PCD have found their way into so many parts of our work as an agency,” says DES Director Tracy Wareing. “From our strategic thinking and planning to the way we approach every day issues, the benefits of the partnership are very real.”

The ASU Partnership for Community Development team included Dr. Richard C. Knopf (Director), Dr. John E. Burk (Assistant Director), Dr. Cynthia A. Lietz (Assistant Professor, Social Work), Dr. Kathleen L. Andereck (Professor, Recreation and Tourism Management), Laurie Pierce (Senior Program Coordinator) and Renae Tenney (Senior Program Coordinator).