Lessons from expanding a new service within the disability sector

Contributed by: Gord Tulloch, Director of Innovation

Originally published on the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation website: http://www.mcconnellfoundation.ca/blog/2016/01/27/scaling-from-practices-not-principles/?platform=hootsuite

In my last blog post, I talked about the personal and professional crises of faith that led to the creation of Building Caring Communities (BCC), a new service consisting of a team of community connectors who work across Metro Vancouver and Powell River to both grow community and to build personal support networks around persons with developmental disabilities. This service is operated between four community living organizations and is in turn procured by a crown authority funded through provincial government.

We were provided with funds from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation to try to spread the model throughout British Columbia (scaling out). We hoped to first expand within the disability sector and then laterally to other sectors (e.g. seniors, immigrants and refugees, etc.). Considerable work was done in the first year of the grant to consolidate the BCC model.

And we thought we were ready.

We had done all the work: designed a novel recruitment process, created the classifications and job descriptions, imported a measurement system, obtained government contracts to deliver the service (wow!), and had new potential partners lined up.

And then we had second thoughts.

We realized that our approach to scaling out was problematic because it focused on replicating general principles (such as Asset Based Community Development) and outputs (such as “connections”) versus replicating codified interactions that teach us how the principles are to be performed. Implementation science tells us that the devil is in the details—it requires that we define principles at the granular, interactional level. Otherwise, we won’t know what specific behaviours and interactions make a difference—in which settings, or using which roles, or using which scripts, etc. It’s sort of like saying “Honesty is the best policy,” but failing utterly to provide an illustration of what this means in daily interactions, hoping that people’s intuitions and sensibilities will guide them. That’s not a good scaling strategy. We needed to be able to adequately answer questions such as “For whom does the BCC model seem to work/not work? Why? What did we do that made it work? What can we tweak next time?”

An inventory of community and friendship-building literature revealed there is a massive gap in practice definition: lots of general strategies and asset-based principles, but little to nothing that details what these things looks like at an interactional level, or how social stigma enters into the equation.

There is something mysterious, perhaps even sacred about relationships: poets, philosophers, psychologists and metaphysicians have all tried to capture it. What we are proposing is not to become technicians of relationships, nor to reduce what happens organically to a set of instructions. Rather, it is about paying attention to what we are saying and doing, where we are taking people, what’s going on around us, etc. In this way we believe we can surface patterns that will lead to better results, and we will start developing a playbook that can be shared with others.