Policy & Practice | April 2022

PRESIDENT’S MEMO continued from page 3

as getting permission for extracur- ricular school activities. To begin to understand the specific strategies for shifting power and honoring personal agency, we have to ask more questions, beginning with taking a hard look at how we as public-sector leaders show up in our communities. Is it only when we are procuring services or meeting a grant requirement that requires constituent input? Do we only take information in (e.g., via applications and community assessments) without returning the data to the community? Are the ques- tionnaires and applications we use deficit based? None of these acts shifts the power structure—rather, they probably amplify it. We need to consider what happens when leaders actively participate in community-led events they did not sponsor, and the mindset shift that happens when leaders seek to under- stand community needs outside of a formal, government-sponsored process. What happens when human services leaders seek to understand the true assets of families and communities? What happens when we proactively share the administrative data we hold—in ways that are equitable and inclusive of community strengths? By personally attending community-led events, proactively seeking how we can support the priorities of the com- munity, and using data as a learning tool, human services leaders can begin to shift structural power to the com- munity and lay the groundwork for co-discovering what’s possible. And I use that term co-discovery intentionally—it’s not just about co-creating solutions—it must start with mutual identification and under- standing of root causes, using the co-discovery process itself as a tool for building trust with community and then, together, redesigning a better way forward. It’s not a linear solution—it’s a social, relational, iterative, trust-building process that requires time and intentionality. For community to truly lead the way, system leaders must be prepared

delivery systems to build on their strengths and aspirations. To make good on our intent, we need to actively focus on centering struc- tural power with people to drive the redesign and ongoing evaluation of programs and services. As public servants in the field of human services, we must start by acknowledging that we have a great deal of structural power, which allows us to shape the relationship we have with the people who seek our services and decide how things get done. While this “power” is inherent in the relationship between government and people, we tend, however, not to think about the way it manifests itself in every aspect of our work. Structural power, for example, exists in routine processes like procurement and grant making—key decision-making levers—and ultimately determine who gets access to finite resources. And, in human services, structural power is exercised from the very moment a person engages with the system. The very act of completing an application for benefits, for example, requires disclosure of personal infor- mation to determine eligibility. The information flows one way, and, often the determination, while made by the rules set forth in law and rules, feels arbitrary to the applicant who does not get to see the internal workings behind the black box. Similarly, we exercise structural power through family assessments (which all too often are not strength based), renewal requirements, and penalties for failing to precisely follow processes and timelines. People experience an imbalance of power when they walk into government offices and are asked to stand behind a plexiglass window that is a literal physical divide and a representa- tion of who has the structural power. Fathers find themselves excluded from an entire set of social services built for mothers as the primary caregiver. Youth living in group homes routinely experience power imbalances in doing what most kids take for granted, such

to build on what our partners at the Wellbeing Blueprint (visit wellbe- ingblueprint.org ) refer to as “social connections and social capital.” System leaders must adopt a mindset shift that recognizes “the value of institutions run by community members as the building blocks of change” and approach communities as assets “rather than problems to be solved.” 1 For a compilation of insights from community-led efforts, see a reprint of Centering Equity in Collective Impact on page 12. When community-led efforts col- laborate with leaders from traditional sets of power in this way—the impact can be transformational. To achieve this kind of transformational change, public-sector leaders must be prepared to grow individually, while also equip- ping their teams with the knowledge and tools to know how power shows up in our daily work and structures, shifting the dynamics wherever we can. At APHSA, we will continue to serve as a platform for shared learning as we seek greater understanding of how to advance race equity, including by shifting structural power to create systems that are truly human centered and community driven. And to that end, our next issue slated for June, Shifting Power to People and Place: What It Takes to Drive System Change, will focus on the importance of shifting systems to work with and for people and not the other way around, and it will also include the second part of my own insights. If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact our editor, Jessica Garon, at jgaron@aphsa.org. Reference Note 1. Kania, J., Williams, J., Schmmitz, P., Brady, S., Kramer, M., & Splansky Juster,

J. (Winter 2022). Centering Equity in Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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