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What should the agency do to help clients with their intervention-focus-related difficulties and how will that help them cope better?

Answering this question starts with identifying the resources and opportunities people access on a private, self-directed basis to handle their life difficulties without the need for human services agencies. Surveying stakeholders to get their ideas and suggestions here is, as in most situations, an important step. However, using a focus group strategy is the best place to start. The idea is to form a small group of people including potential clients, professionals who work with people experiencing the types of difficulties included in the intervention focus, and a few people who have no special experience or expertise. The latter participants bring an important element of common sense to the process.

As preparation for meeting with the focus group, revisit the client profiles developed earlier. Those are presented to the focus group so group participants know for whom agency services are proposed. Next, clearly specify the difficulties and issues included in the intervention focus. Take care to avoid professional jargon or vague terms. Each issue or difficulty in the intervention focus is explained in everyday terms most people can easily relate to and understand.

We say to focus group participants, We are proposing to provide resources and opportunities to these potential clients with these issues and difficulties in their lives. After doing this, we invite them to share with us how people typically cope with those particular difficulties, using their private, self-directed opportunities and resources. The result is one or more strategies for coping with each issue or difficulty on the intervention focus list.

We have a set of strategies for coping with the issues and difficulties in the intervention focus. We know what resources and opportunities the group thinks should be made available to clients. Next, we invite focus group participants to share with us their thoughts and ideas about what happens when people successfully use the strategies they have suggested. How can we tell when clients are coping better? Along with knowing what resources and opportunities the agency should make available to its clients, we want to understand what criteria we should use to assess whether or not what we have done is successful.

Repeat the focus group process with several groups to assure we capture the full range of possible perspectives and points-of-view on how people successfully cope with the intervention focus issues and on how we know when people are coping more successfully. Once we have done this, we develop service scenarios. These are stories about the potential clients in the client profiles – one story for each profile. The story or scenario briefly describes who the client is, the specific issues or difficulties he (or she) is experiencing, the agency resources or opportunities he accesses to help with those difficulties or issues, and how he is coping better, how he is better off for having received agency services.

Next, validate the service scenarios. Start with 0-A leadership connections. Potential Clients review and comment on the scenarios. Move then to 0-1 connections to assure the scenarios are a good fit with what the Initiators envision for the agency. Next, return to the Authorizers, requesting reaffirmation of the auspices and authorization to establish an agency, using the services scenarios as a primary development guide. Assuming authorization is still firm, engage the Implementers in the task of establishing a human services agency to make the authorized resources and opportunities available to and accessible by the people who should be agency clients.

Two points need passing attention here. The above steps are not necessarily followed consecutively. Once we understand the steps and how they relate to each other, we combine steps and modify the order somewhat to accommodate to stakeholders and special circumstances. The only caution is to be sure all of the steps receive attention. None can be neglected. Also, let me simply note the possibilities for minor to major stakeholder dissonance within each step in the process are significant and not altogether avoidable. Be prepared to recognize and manage dissonance as it develops. It only gets worse if we ignore it.

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