Permit me to nerd-out for a minute.
Yesterday, the White House released its “Executive Order on Transforming Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government” and OH MY GOSH IT IS SO EXCITING!
The Executive Order (EO) is about reducing the costs of interacting w/government - what scholars call administrative burden. Think filling out your taxes or having to stand in line all day to vote. These are activities that cost people time, energy, and can sometimes feel pretty dehumanizing. In fact, research finds that when the costs of interacting with the government are high, people are less satisfied, have a less favorable view of government, and are less likely to access or complete programs (see Pamela Herd and Donald P. Moynihan, 2018.)
Rise routinely partners with government and nonprofit partners that are trying to reduce administrative burden - particularly in programs that assist people in moments of crisis. As the EO notes: “Customers often navigate services across multiple agencies in specific moments of need, such as when they are seeking financing for their businesses or experiencing food insecurity.” If you’re on the verge of getting evicted because you lost your job, it is quite possible that you’d have to navigate a bunch of different government departments and systems - one for emergency housing assistance, one for food support, one for unemployment insurance, etc. - each with its own forms, rules, and restrictions. This is stressful, confusing, and can often result in people not getting access to the critical support that they need.
The EO states that it is the government’s policy to improve service delivery and customer experience and calls upon various federal agencies to update rules, policies, and procedures in order to improve the experience of accessing government support. Though I find the term ‘customer service’ problematic (something I’ll save for another post), this is GREAT NEWS! It sends a message that the experience of interacting with government matters and identifies concrete steps for agencies can take to improve that experience.
As the federal government ramps up its efforts to improve service delivery, federal agencies can and should look to cities and counties that have been actively working to reduce administrative burden - especially in MN. Our experience with local governments across the state suggests that reducing the costs of getting government help is actually really hard in practice - it involves a complex web of federal eligibility and reporting rules, state laws related to data privacy and data management, as well as local policies and practices. A boost of federal support in easing the complexity will help a lot. And, there are a number of localities that are making it work -- all the while providing evidence that changes are making it easier and less costly for residents to get help in times of need.
We’re excited to see how changes at the federal level can help localities make even more progress on reducing administrative burden!
Want to learn more? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we work with localities to reduce the costs of accessing service. Or stay tuned for our next Research Bite - conveniently on administrative burden.
You can’t get very far these days without hearing about the need for systems change. The term is used to describe everything from transforming public assistance to reforming democracy. But what exactly does it mean?
In a nutshell, systems change is an approach to solving complex social problems.
At Rise, many of our partners are working to solve problems that don't have an easy solution. These so-called ‘wicked problems’ are distinguished by their complexity: they are hard to define, are intertwined with other problems, and are subject to varying interpretations by different stakeholders. Poverty, for example, is the product of many interconnected problems including the lack of educational opportunity, declining real wages, rising housing costs, and systemic racism.
Complex problems are tricky to solve at a program level. A program that provides housing assistance doesn't address educational inequities, low wages, or institutional racism. Complex problems need solutions that change systems, in addition to changing programs.
And that's what systems change initiatives do. They aim to change the underlying structures and practices that make a system or set of systems function in a certain way.
That sounds like a bunch of jargon, I know! Let me give you a real-life example:
For several years the Rise team has been working to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in Minnesota’s juvenile justice system. This is a complex problem with multiple, overlapping causes. Programs certainly matter for addressing disparities. Implicit bias trainings, for instance, are important for changing the behavior of front-line staff. But systems-level interventions are also critical.
That’s why Rise is working to change how the system itself perpetuates ethnic and racial disparities, by:
Working to change systems requires the ability to work across programs, agencies, and stakeholders and to bring different groups of people together in solving complex problems – skills we actively work to cultivate at Rise. If you want to connect with us to talk about how we can help your organization work at a systems level to tackle complex problems, email me at email@example.com.