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Dec 11, 2012

Fiscal pressures prompt governments to redesign service delivery models: Large-scale reforms aim to improve service, reduce costs, and enable a more agile approach to service delivery

December 11, 2012

New research on human services transformation as part of the Mowat Centre’s Shifting Gears series of papers.

Toronto  The Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance (Mowat Centre) and KPMG LLP (KPMG) today released a new report, Integrating Human Services in an Age of Fiscal Restraint.

Across a broad portfolio – from child welfare and income security to disability services and youth development – the need to adopt a business-like, results-oriented approach to the delivery of human and social services is quickly moving up the public sector agenda.

“The economic downturn is at once placing budgets under acute strain and driving demand for human services,” said Matthew Mendelsohn, Director, Mowat Centre.

“Fiscal pressures, along with evolving public expectations and technological change, are prompting governments to redesign service delivery in a bid to improve services while simultaneously lowering costs.”

Against this backdrop and with limited human services integration projects complete, Integrating Human Services in an Age of Fiscal Restraint evaluates of one of Canada’s largest integration efforts, the ongoing human social services program of Ontario’s Peel Region and aims to answer the following key questions:

• What global lessons can other governments draw from a public sector organization that has successfully introduced an integrated delivery model for human services?

• What were the barriers to change and how were they overcome?

• What performance metrics and feedback loops were used?

• In what ways can human services integration projects deliver better services at a lower cost?

Through its evaluation, Integrating Human Services in an Age of Fiscal Restraint has uncovered a number of key lessons that will be of value to governments undertaking large-scale integration projects, demonstrating that minimal disruption to services, sustainable cost savings, more timely and accessible services, and better client outcomes are all achievable. Key lessons include:

• Integrating services inevitably involves upfront costs and short-term upheaval for staff. Well-managed reforms can win employee support and enhance management legitimacy if transformation efforts are driven by a vision framed in terms of the public good.

• The composition of the integration leadership team must match the needs of the new operating environment. In addition to consideration of skills sets, competencies, and cross-program representation, it is vital that selection is also based on mindset and commitment to the new way of thinking.

• Successful integration requires comprehensive planning – from building an evidence base to anticipating resistance to the development of feedback mechanisms.

• The challenges involved in replacing legacy systems (e.g. program-specific IT systems) that were never designed to interact with each other should not be underestimated.

• Collaborative behaviour that supports integration and breaks down organizational silos should be incentivized through performance targets, staff appraisals, promotion opportunities, and public recognition.

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” model, most integration projects promise the benefits of: streamlined access, faster response times, effective resource allocation, individually tailored support, improved client satisfaction, a more agile workforce, and lower operating costs.

Jurisdictions seeking to integrate their human services must also navigate a number of key challenges: corporate structure, legal restrictions on data sharing, labour relations, staff expertise, organizational resistance, service delivery partners with entrenched interests, and time lags in realizing extractable savings.

While any process of reforming service delivery is context specific, the barriers and risks Peel Region confronted are typical of these transformations. Peel Region’s strategies offer a valuable roadmap to other governments undertaking large-scale service reform in an age of fiscal restraint.

Read the full report