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Can ‘talent injection’ remake social services?

By Feather O'Connor Houstoun, Governing Magazine | November 28, 2012

The Stoneleigh Foundation is featured by Governing Magazine.

One of the interesting, and perennial, disconnects in our complicated federal system is that state and local agencies rarely possess the serious policy offices that command significant resources–such as comprehensive data and skilled analysts–that federal agencies often have. Challenged to just get the job done, it is a rare state or local department that has a single person positioned to develop a broader perspective: how services are being delivered in other jurisdictions, where innovation is occurring, and what application such knowledge might have in day-to-day operations at home.

Ironically, it is the on-the-ground operation where the innovation is most needed, and where the theory of best practice meets the reality of execution. Often, innovation is attempted through demonstrations–frequently financed by well-intentioned federal agencies or philanthropic sources–that never move beyond the demonstration phase because of inherent barriers to scale. As I recounted in an earlier column, operations leaders must deal with the complex funding-displacement, workforce and resource issues associated with even a highly desired change. In a resource-constrained world, how can innovators provide the essential analytic spark?

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