Non-Profit Roundtable: Challenges with Digital Transformation Around Case Management
Social services-focused non-profits are committed to helping the people who depend on your organization navigate confusing, overwhelming, and often frightening situations when their need is at its greatest. Add to that need the complexity of a pandemic, and it becomes even more important—and challenging—to do this while confronting new and ever-changing realities. That’s why it’s so important IT organizations to leverage technology wherever possible.
But with so many challenges, where is the best place to start? Since a non-profit’s ultimate job is to take care of the people who depend on them, we decided to start with challenges around case management. Regardless of how “case management” is defined by the non-profit, a “case” is ultimately a person depending on them for help. That seems like a very good reason to start a discussion there, which is what we did. We hosted a roundtable with a group of IT executives from youth and family focused non-profits from around the United States to discuss how to tackle the challenge of managing client cases and the technology strategies that support those efforts.
The group did not disappoint; a lively, 90-minute discussion yielded some interesting insights and excellent feedback and advice. Here are some highlights:
Case Management Needs Digital Transformation
In the digital transformation journey, all non-profits have one thing in common: the need for case management. NetHope, a consortium of global nonprofits which strives to empower other nonprofit organizations to change the world through technology, kicked off the discussion. NetHope serves as a bridge that links technology companies and funding partners to design, fund, implement, adapt, and scale innovative approaches to attack the developmental, humanitarian, and conservation issues most nonprofits deal with.
NetHope also studies the non-profit sector and has found that non-profits need to put money into technology or they will be unlikely to meet their goals. This might seem obvious, but many non-profits get in the mindset of seeing technology as a utility rather than an important part of their strategy to advance their mission.
Money is tight for non-profits, which is why NetHope has been focusing on three areas: spreading awareness of the need to fund strong digital infrastructures, working with non-profit leaders to gain the skill of “knowing digital” in the form of financial skills, relationship building skills, and fundraising skills, and helping non-profits with a path for using data for impact in case management.
Data in Silos Creates Many Problems
When asked how technology has impacted their program participants or staff from a case management perspective, one participant pointed out that, as non-profits bring in new technologies, they are given the opportunity to examine their processes and uncover issues. Adopting new technology stimulates conversations at different levels, forcing them to examine how they operate and providing them with an opportunity to make changes that will make a difference.
The biggest issue that is pervasive across social services agencies: people are working in and data resides in silos, and it is negatively impactful in many ways. First, it impacts the ability to deliver services. Without a single, clear picture of a “case”, case managers can’t make informed decisions about their clients. Are different programs and services overlapping or worse, are there gaps in services? Is there continuity of care? Second, data siloes inhibit the ability to have a comprehensive conversation around the real impact they’re having. It is not possible to evaluate performance—in fact, it’s impossible to even provide data requested from funding sources—without looking at the same set of facts.
So, like case managers, leaders can’t make informed decisions about their organizations. When asked how they address the silo issue, the overall response was that nobody seems to have a solution that meets all their needs. The consensus was not to try to find “the perfect platform”, but instead to find a platform that will grow and scale with the organization so they can make adjustments to fit their requirements.
With New Technology or Processes Comes the Challenge of Adoption
Participants agreed that adoption of new platforms or processes is a constant challenge. Change is hard for everyone. One participant shared a successful approach: implementing change in a relatively unconscious way. Instead of ceremonializing change—for example, “We will be rolling out the new system on X date”—which is not how things naturally work, it’s better where possible to take a more organic approach. Simply make the change, watch how it goes, and make tweaks as required.
In general, the participants agreed on the approach of implementing the minimum viable product (MVP) first—shaping mindsets, shifting practices, and sharing the results along the journey, continually stack-ranking but ensuring there is always a working solution. They are constantly weaving in a new vernacular to the way they deliver social services, and likewise, IT departments are moving away from the traditional IT function to more of a digital services organization that facilitates change.
Finally, there was agreement on the importance of adopting industry standards and right-sizing of them for the organization. With technology today changing every few months rather than years, this approach is becoming even more important. As one participant said, “No, it’s not the perfect academic solution. It’s a pragmatic approach to operationalizing the changes we need with an organization.”
Automation, COVID, clients first, and more
These are just a few of the topics discussed during the roundtable, which also covered automation, the impacts of COVID, and processes, technologies, and approaches that put the client first—a problem most non-profits face because of pressure from so many sources.
We invite you to listen to the entire conversation, which is now available on demand, and contact HSO to discuss how we can help your organization leverage technology to help your people better serve your clients: