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Leadership in an era of disruption

Insights from the 2013 Human Services Summit at Harvard University


Disruption. It is a fitting word to describe the current human services landscape. Consider the reality of the launch of major changes in demographics, funding, infrastructure and technology.

When disruption is the new normal, what does leadership look like? Successful leaders respond in innovative ways. They become adaptive, inclusive and propose dynamic, innovative programs using new technologies to promote data driven programs. Disruptions become a catalyst for better business models that guide families and communities to self-sufficiency.

To harness and share these lessons, Leadership for a Networked World, Accenture, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) convened human services leaders for The 2013 Human Services Summit: Leadership in an Era of Disruption.

Originally published by Leadership for Networked World, this report captures insights from this unique event.


The 2013 Human Services Summit was held on October 25-27, 2013 at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA USA. APHSA leaders also held their annual CEO retreat on October 25th and more than 70 human services policy makers, researchers and executives attended Summit sessions on October 26th and 27th.

To move forward, it is imperative that leaders focus on four overarching strategies:

  • Exercising adaptive leadership and best practices in change management to ensure stakeholder engagement and secure sustainable transformation.

  • Forging dynamic relationships with service providers, workforce development partners and community stakeholders in order to create a culture of innovation.

  • Designing innovative policy and shared governance models that break down silos and build up integrated service delivery.

  • Deploying predictive analytic systems and social media tools to anticipate the needs of customers and target resources effectively.


Leaders discussed strategies to engage stakeholders, frame issues, create new governance models and increase the pace of change and adaptation. Participants also taught each other how to use major disruptions to leverage resources, build stronger bridges across agencies and create new business models that improve services for vulnerable populations:

  • San Diego is building a robust partnership among healthcare, human services, the private sector and community organizations to support a thriving, healthy community.

  • Spain is reforming its welfare system to be more integrated, efficient, sustainable and outcomes-oriented.

  • Transition to Success and the state of Michigan are adopting a new framework to treat poverty through client-focused programs and integrated, local services.

  • Colorado, Maryland and Minnesota are revamping health and human services programs.

Throughout the Summit participants developed new strategies and skills to move their human services organizations toward a generative business model.


Human services providers around the country are operating during a particularly turbulent period. Changes in the economy, demographics, technology, legislation and more have forced leaders to adapt and innovate. In the face of major disruptions, they have had to be creative, resilient and collaborative to continue providing essential services to our country’s most vulnerable populations. Key lessons learned:

  • Do not be afraid to offer a bold, holistic goal.

  • Frame the goal so that it is inclusive and gains broad support.

  • Demonstrate resiliency and ability to innovate during crises.

  • Engage a diverse group of partners to lead change.

  • Develop a clear vision of reform and road map to guide the path.

  • Monitor results and adjust policies.

  • Take advantage of analytics and technology to build public trust.

  • Challenge assumptions and frameworks.

  • Develop meaningful community partnerships to drive change.

  • Build new models that are scalable, sustainable and measurable.

  • Use disruption and change as springboards for change.

  • Find creative ways to simplify systems and streamline citizen access.

  • Look for new ways to integrate processes and systems.


Organizations must grow the human services business model over time.

Outcomes and Impact

Insights from the 2012 Human Services Summit at Harvard University

Integrated service delivery is the future of human services. And leaders are committed to delivering outcomes and measurable impact to those they serve—but it’s never easy. Getting results demands significant transformation—from adopting new business models and leadership approaches to leveraging human services technology and stakeholder communication.

This compelling report explores insights from the 2012 Human Services Summit, which gathered leaders from federal, state and local human services organizations at Harvard University to share insights and leading practices, deconstruct opportunities and challenges, and consider the nature of delivering human services for the future.

The event was hosted by The Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University (TECH) and developed by Leadership for a Networked Word in collaboration with Accenture and the American Public Human Services Association. Antonio M. Oftelie, Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World and the Public Sector Innovation Fellow at TECH, authored this report.

Human services organizations are working at, and in many cases, beyond capacity to meet today’s unprecedented demands. Even as agency’s work tirelessly to deliver services, fundamental questions remain. What are the end results of all of their hard work? Are the jobs found truly sustainable? Are food and financial assistance programs helping families build stable environments? Are communities served becoming more secure and productive environments for citizens?

With the answers to questions like these often unclear, it is evident that human services organizations have opportunities to get better at understanding, identifying and measuring the outcomes and impact they are making.

The 2012 Human Services Summit was convened to focus the conversation around this important issue. The resulting report includes research and case studies to inspire human services leaders to drive effective transformation in their own organizations as they realize integrated service delivery.

To help human services leaders make progress toward transformation, Leadership for a Networked World researched leading practices and developed a helpful framework—the Human Services Value Curve.

As organizations advance through the curve, the driving business models support new capabilities and business outcomes. The model is not intended as a one-size-fits-all absolute, but as a tool to help leaders envision and reach progress. The four levels of the curve include:

  • Regulative Business Model. The focus is on serving people who are eligible for particular services while complying with policy and program regulations.

  • Collaborative Business Model. The focus is on supporting people in receiving all the applicable services by working across agency and programmatic boundaries.

  • Integrative Business Model. The focus is on addressing the root causes of people’s needs and problems by coordinating and integrating services at an optimum level.

  • Generative Business Model. The focus is on generating healthy communities by co-creating solutions for multi-dimensional family and socioeconomic influences.

As human services leaders from within and outside of the United States presented on different aspects of organizational transformation at the Summit, this report includes a number of case studies that show recommendations in action. Some of the highlights include:

  • Ohio’s strategy to fuse health programs with human services initiatives to transform their capacity to meet future demands.

  • Australia’s use of new human services technologies to reach and help underserved populations while improving human services performance.

  • Hillside-Work Scholarship Connection’s use of analytics to improve the outcomes of a program to encourage at-risk youth to graduate from high school and move out of poverty.

  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ focus on streamlining operations and achieving a “one stop shop” solution for all children’s services.

Related PDF:

Download PDFOutcomes and Impact [PDF 1.10MB]


Collaborative business models and integrated technology can improve client outcomes.

Reflections on the Leadership for a Networked World: The 2013 Human Services Summit.

While the impact of public sector budgetary constraints is often discussed at a federal level, minimal attention has been paid to their impact on small, state or county-based human services agencies that provide vital social services to some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. As these local agencies are constantly pressed to improve care for their clients, they are coming under increased strain due to overtaxed technology systems, the introduction of disruptive technologies, diminishing federal funding and an increasing number of constituents requiring care.

The 2013 Human Services Summit, developed by Leadership for a Networked World and hosted by the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard in collaboration with Accenture, brought together a broad range of human services practitioners from federal, state and local agencies to discuss the convergence of changing regulatory environments, macroeconomic challenges pressuring funding, increasingly tech-savvy service consumers, and the role of disruptive technologies in mitigating these concerns.

Source: TBR Special Report, “Collaborative Business Models, Utilized In Concert With Integrated Technology, Can Drive Improved Client Outcomes”, October 2013.

Throughout the presentations, workshops and conversations, three key challenges stood out:

  1. How can technology be leveraged to increase service value and the rate of successful outcomes given the intense current focus on meeting Affordable Care Act requirements on tight deadlines?

  2. How can technology be used to integrate information from disparate agencies to break down silos and provide holistic care for clients?

  3. Once the definition of a successful client outcome is defined by a given agency, how can analytics-driven KPIs be used to measure outcome achievement and predict best practices for caretakers in similar future instances?

The Summit attendees exuded positive sentiment around the adoption of new technology and integration of IT systems within and across human services organizations. However, panelists and participants agreed roadblocks exist within their organizations that can prevent them from winning the buy-in necessary to facilitate IT transformation. Conversations touched on how to utilize strong business cases to create stakeholder buy-in for transformative efforts in this era of disruptive technology and what pain points organizations need to be aware of during the implementation process. Accenture executives emphasized that, even in large IT modernization programs, the human “change management” aspect is often more difficult than the technology implementation. One panelist explained the challenge is less in the planning aspect, but rather in getting individuals within an organization to believe in and support the transformation, as people remain a key factor in relaying information and implementing new practices.

Source: TBR Special Report, “Collaborative Business Models, Utilized In Concert With Integrated Technology, Can Drive Improved Client Outcomes”, October 2013.

Effective use of disruptive technology to improve client care will increase efficiency, helping allay funding constraints by allowing caretakers to “do more with less”.

While IT transformation is often used as a lever to reduce long-term costs, the largest benefit for human services organizations may exist in the increased efficiency derived through IT modernization efforts, subsequently improving service delivery to an individual client and freeing up time and resources to be dedicated to higher-value work.

Increased collaboration among human services organizations is the next step in providing holistic care and improving client outcomes
A second key factor to identifying outcomes, improving protocol, leveraging predictive analytics capabilities and ultimately improving client care is interagency collaboration to assess and analyze inputs from various sources or agencies; ultimately, to overcome the silos that exist between organizations. While integrating IT systems is more of a functional task that will help organizations integrate and streamline the collection of and access to common client information, the bigger concern is establishing a strong business case for transformative efforts that promote a net benefit at each agency level, from director to immediate caretaker, as each position has a unique job function that requires a different set of inputs.

Agencies can leverage analytics to improve decision making internally, identify outcomes and subsequently impact policies
One breakout topic of note was the use of analytics to share and analyze data from various human services organizations. Findings from analytics could ultimately influence policy creation, improve service provision and improve the use of evidence-based decision making to drive protocols that enhance client outcomes.

Source: TBR Special Report, “Collaborative Business Models, Utilized In Concert With Integrated Technology, Can Drive Improved Client Outcomes”, October 2013.

Today we see private sector demand for converged IT and shared databases enabling business process redesign driven by dual motivators of enhanced profitability and improved service delivery. Absent the profit motivator within many human services organizations, quantifying the incentive to use technology to improve delivery makes developing a strong business case exponentially more difficult. Additionally, increasingly constrained agency funding compounds this problem, creating a cycle in which current systems are struggling to measure holistic client outcomes; however, positive outcomes are required to free up funding for new systems. The challenge for human services agency leadership is to create a compelling enough business case to break through this cycle.

Using disruptive technology will increasingly become a vital contributor in enhancing the efficiency with which human services are delivered to clients, particularly given the rising demand for human services and growing complexity involved in coordinated care efforts. There are certainly challenges involved in implementation of technology modernization efforts, such as stagnant (at best) budgets, creating buy-in from key stakeholders within an agency, and breaking through the siloed nature of public agency work. However, by creating effective business cases, establishing and accurately measuring client outcomes and establishing stakeholder buy-in, a great deal of opportunity exists to “do more with less."

Connect with us to learn more on delivering public service for the future on Twitter @AccenturePubSvc

Source: TBR Special Report, “Collaborative Business Models, Utilized In Concert With Integrated Technology, Can Drive Improved Client Outcomes”, October 2013.

Related PDF:

Download PDFCollaborative Business Models, Utilized in Concert with Integrated Technology, Can Drive Improved Client Outcomes [PDF 387KB]


Leadership lessons and Insight on transforming Human services’ as a Subhead at the top of the first column.

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.

Related PDF:
The Pursuit of Outcomes


Getting everyone on board

Leading through change means driving the vision of transformation through the organization.

Effective leaders do not work in isolation. Breaking down the building blocks of leading through reform, Linda Gibbs, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, City of New York, cites the importance of an open approach that allows for people’s voices to be heard—even the naysayers. She explores why this is a critical foundation for turning leadership’s vision of reform into real practice, reminding us that by convening “in the big tent” people may discover more about their similarities than their differences and move more easily past them through program implementation.

Voices of Progress—Video

Be inspired by memorable moments of three years of the Human Services Summit

Since 2010, human services professionals have gathered on the campus of Harvard University annually to come together around the issues that shape their work. Over time, the compelling discussion has transitioned from a focus on realizing a vision for change in demanding times to spearheading effective human services solutions that can deliver outcomes and impact. Welcoming 2013 Summit attendees, this video celebrates the voices of this special community, reminding us all that the commitment to the mission should never waiver.

2013 Human Services Summit—Video

Voices from Leadership in an Era of Disruption

The Human Services Summit is a weekend that inspires. This must-watch video is a compilation of some of the most memorable moments from the 2013 event. For attendees, it is a great reminder of the ideas the group shared. And for those who have yet to attend the Summit, it offers a taste of what to expect. Either way, human services practitioners are sure to be wowed and invigorated by the voices of their peers’ commitment to making progress in disruptive times.

Lessons from the Retail Experience—Video

Discover how leading retail models can drive effective self-service models.

Learning from what works is an important foundation for success. This is exactly what Elizabeth Zealand, General Manager Future Service Transformation, Australian Government Department of Human Services, explores in this video. She tells the story of how the Department modeled service delivery processes after the best of the Apple store to triage workflow and promote citizen self-service and mission effectiveness. See how the Department found value in seeing people as “customers,” and created a retail-infused experience in line with how people want to—and expect to—interact with service providers.