Policy & Practice | Spring 2023

president’s memo By Tracy Wareing Evans

Aspirations for the Future of Human Services Part Two: Community Engagement

O ver the past decade, leaders of human services agencies have increasingly focused on shifting supports to meet the needs of people and communities “upstream”— reducing the need for “downstream” and more costly services while also advancing social and economic mobility so families can succeed in the long term. Along this journey, it has become increasingly clear that if the human services system is to meet people not just where they are, but where they dream, we need to shift how we work. Through a series of interactive sessions with our member and partner network last year, APHSA explored what leaders aspire to for the future of human services by the year 2030. Three broad themes emerged: (1) community engagement, (2) systems alignment, and (3) the human services workforce. I previously shared key insights and major takeaways from these gatherings in my December article (see https://bit.ly/Dec22Memo) , and now I’ll dive deeper into the three themes that arose, starting with com munity engagement , and defining what the concept entails, exploring what progress would look like, and describing how we can achieve that progress through concrete steps. In future articles, I’ll explore systems alignment and the human services workforce . These insights offer a richer understanding of what’s needed to move from concept to operational and institutional realities. Indeed, what we learned from this visioning work played a key role in shaping APHSA’s updated strategy and

focus. Check out our updated Strategic Playbook and 2023 Action Plan to learn more (visit https://bit.ly/41mlBFT) . Understanding the Work of Community Engagement Leaders share a sense of optimism about the possibility of enhanced com munity engagement, as the dramatic shifts collectively experienced through the pandemic opened pathways to what is possible when people and com munities drive systems to work for them—instead of requiring people to “work” the systems. There is broad consensus that changing how we work is founda tional to advancing the equitable outcomes we desire for families and communities. Community engagement is not simply a matter of enhanced leadership development or additional training of the workforce. For many, the shift

requires new mental models and a new operating paradigm across all levels of government that puts community at the center. To achieve this, leaders rec ognize that we must reckon with the harm that systems—including human services—have done while demon strating that systems can and must work for the common good. Observations of our current practices include the following: n Public agencies typically do not organize or engage communities well. n Structural power 1 is inherent in our public services systems, and yet it is rarely acknowledged, let alone explicitly discussed, by the agencies (and by extension, agency leaders) that hold that power. n There is a need for a deep reckoning with how systems and struc tures have contributed directly to See President’s Memo on page 30


Spring 2023 Policy & Practice

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