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The Pursuit of outcomes: Leadership lessons and insights on transforming human services

2011 Human Services Summit Report: Leadership for a Networked World, Harvard University


The impact of economic upheaval, complex social challenges and changing demographics requires human services leaders to not only help individuals in crisis, but also guide families and communities to a self-sufficient and sustainable future. Meeting these demands means that human services organizations must improve their capacity to deliver an efficient and effective array of services over time—yielding outcomes that are valued by multiple stakeholders.

Yet what do “capacity” and “outcomes” mean in human services? And what does it take to make them a reality? How do human services solutions need to evolve? What is the role for human services IT and eligibility systems of tomorrow?

In October 2011, human services thinkers and practitioners from around the globe gathered at Harvard University for the 2011 Human Services Summit: The Pursuit of Outcomes to discuss progress toward outcomes-focused business models and to share strategies for moving the needle and addressing today’s toughest human services challenges.

This report, Human Services: The Pursuit of Outcomes, couples insights from the summit and synthesizes the best practices and participant ideas to help agencies continue to set a strong course for the future.


To help human services leaders address their most pressing challenges, Leadership for a Networked World and Accenture, in collaboration with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) convened senior human services policy makers, Harvard University faculty, fellows and researchers, along with select industry and nonprofit executives for the 2011 Human Services Summit on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

More than 80 human services practitioners from federal, state, local and provincial governments came together in an inspiring weekend focused on taking action to build capacity and help people move toward self sufficiency. This report documents this exchange of ideas, strategies and solutions and chronicles some of the group’s most compelling successes in their pursuit of outcomes, including the following:

  • Hampton County, Virginia, officials are coordinating and aligning more than 30 programs to focus on strengthening and preserving families, finding earlier and more cost-effective treatments for children and families with physical, mental and emotional issues and improving community well-being.

  • Jefferson County Colorado, executives have created community-wide projects that drive broad-based community engagement, collaboration and buy-in to provide a holistic, citizen-centric service delivery model to specific groups.

  • State of Kansas officials are building a client-centered eligibility system that provides for seamless healthcare eligibility assessment and coverage and delivery of other human services in new streamlined, client-focused ways, while measuring and achieving outcomes holistically.

  • North Carolina leaders are deploying the Families Accessing Services through Technology (FAST) program, which will integrate and align the way the state and the 100 county departments serve constituents while improving operations and outcomes.

  • State of Washington executives are working across organizations, partners and systems to not only create better solutions for persons or families who have complex needs and are “at risk,” but also measure overall population impact while ensuring that resources are being allocated efficiently in both the short and long term.


What human services leaders need now are the strategies and tools to transform the entire human services system—programs, agencies, jurisdictions and sectors. To get there, leaders must take incremental steps by adopting organizational innovations that improve collaboration and streamline work flow and by harnessing advances in information and communication technologies that increase data sharing and overall efficiency.

The resulting transformation will bring the increased capacity necessary to move toward a more citizen-centered, family-first, efficient and outcome-focused human services delivery system in three fundamental ways:

  • First, an organization will become more efficient at delivering outcomes, in other words, it can produce more of the desired outcomes with a level or reduced amount of resources.

  • Second, an organization will become more effective at attaining outcomes, i.e., it can measurably improve its ability to reach goals.

  • Third, and most important, an organization will develop entirely new competencies, in other words, it can respond in new ways to create and deliver previously unattainable outcomes.

At the Human Services Summit, participants charted their transformation journey along a framework referred to as the Human Services Value Curve, which includes regulative business models, collaborative business models, integrative business models and generative business models. In traversing the curve, the enabling business models support new horizons of outcomes. This report explores case studies that show what it takes to make this transformational journey.


As human services leaders look for solutions, they’re finding that traditional answers are not feasible today—what’s needed is the ability to increase overall capacity and move toward a more citizen-centered, family centered, efficient and outcome-focused human services delivery system.

Proactive leaders are acting now by transforming their entire human services system. As these leaders move through the horizons of the “Human Services Value Curve”—from regulative, to collaborative, to integrative and generative—they’re realizing unprecedented gains in valued outcomes. Yet building outcomes-focused human services enterprise doesn’t happen overnight—it requires a new mindset, new strategies and new technologies—and it requires stakeholders to make a concerted and sustained effort to envision and affect change.

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