Note from Beth: I’m hosting a small army of guest bloggers, grantmakers, who are attending the GeoFunders National Conference taking place this week in Seattle. The GEO community is united by a common drive to challenge the norm in pursuit of better results. GEO’s 2012 National Conference shares a range of perspectives and new ideas for smarter grantmaking that leads to better results and presents opportunities for participants to learn from the wisdom and experience of their peers. If you’re not attending and curious what funders are learning, you’ll have an opportunity to read some of the ideas and questions being discussed right here on this blog.
Can you have your cake and eat it too? – Guest post by David C. Colby
That was the question in the “The Intertwining Services Funding with Policy Initiatives to Achieve Systems Change” session at GEO. Funders develop service delivery projects, in this case around behavioral health, and used the efforts to facilitate policy change. Lynda Frost of the Hogg Foundation talked about funding integrated mental health services and how that Foundation was able to be the neutral convener of stakeholders to discuss policy. Becky Hayes Boober described how the Maine Health Access Foundation provided $10 million investment for mental health integration initiative that integrated care in over 100 practice sites. They were also able to leverage an evaluation and learning community to develop common definitions for policy.
Karen Linkins, Desert Vista Consulting, discussed the Tides Center and California Endowment efforts on integrating mental health services in California. These efforts contributed to policy changes, but were not catalysts of change. For those interested in using service deliver to produce policy, Karen provided two tools—Strong Field Framework from Irvine Foundation and the System Change Framework—that are on the Session A5 GEO conference website.
Well…can you have your cake and eat it too? As with many things, it depends. Bringing people to the policy table through services projects seems to have worked in Texas, Maine and California. Administrative policy change seems possible—or as Becky Hayes Boober said “less silver bullet, but more silver buckshot.” Buckshot policy is possible.
If were looking for a silver bullet, a high level policy change or redistributive policy, this tactic seems difficult to execute. It involves being an insider and outsider at the same time—how can one be Saul Alinsky and the State Medicaid Director at the same time? Have any of you used this approach? When does it work? When doesn’t it?
David C. Colby, Vice President, Research and Evaluation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. David focuses on using evidence to improve philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.