Money makes the world go ’round, right?
But a common struggle of social service providers is a lack of funding. There is seemingly never enough money out there. Although this may be true, what if we could use the existing money in a smarter way? Throwing money at a problem won’t necessarily solve it, so what if we took a closer look at where the money is coming from, and what it’s going to do?
Canada’s social safety net is estimated to be at least $380 billion, with over 275,000 services. Yet, time and time again, we hear that those struggling don’t know where to access help, and that service providers continually struggle to deliver and coordinate the appropriate care for their clients. That isn’t surprising when we recognize that many decision-makers lack access to the real-time data needed to inform action plans that will move the needle on complex social issues. Meanwhile, the lack of coordination leads us to a fragmented, ineffective, and inequitable social safety net.
Recently, we hosted our first Funding Integration 101 course led by our co-president and co-founder, Dr. Alina Turner, and Martin Thomsen, a municipal leader at the City of Lethbridge with on-the-ground experience building integrated funding and social strategies. HelpSeeker designed this course for Community Success Hub (CSH) subscribers to join an open space for peers and funders of different service organizations to discuss with each other what they’ve learned about the processes, benefits, and challenges of funding integration.
In case you missed it, I’m here to recap my five key takeaways from the course, so you can get excited about funding integration too. But first, a key definition.
What is Funding Integration?
In a nutshell, funding integration examines what services and funding are already in place, and how to best reallocate those resources in an integrated way, based on logic, evidence, and need. Funding integration attempts to address the fragmentation and duplication of supports and services. This fragmentation is evident at the service, organizational, funding, and policy levels, and contributes to inequities and poor social outcomes.
The idea of integration is to more strategically link and leverage funding. As described by Dr. Alina Turner, the best way to think about integration is to visualize a network, with nodes of activities, interests, people, and resources, all parts of the systems that provide services. The key is to focus on which nodes offer clients the best outcomes. Integration should not be considered the ultimate cure for a faltering system; it is more realistic to see integration as a transformative and deliberate approach to collaboration and change.
I emphasize collaboration a lot. I do recognize that collaboration is difficult in practice, especially when the social sector is so siloed. However, because everything stems from funding, the first step to being deliberate about collaboration is funding integration. Think about it like this: if we are all in the same boat of trying to achieve community wellbeing and safety, we all have to be rowing the boat in the same direction (thanks, Marty, for the analogy). By getting all the oars – the pieces of service provision – to move forward together, we move more successfully together.
Now that we’ve established a general idea of what funding integration is, below are some of my main takeaways from our most recent course.
#1 – Funding integration benefits everyone involved in the help-seeking process
At HelpSeeker, we often think about three groups: decision-makers, service providers, and people seeking help.
In a landscape where inequities take place through many different social issues, it is essential for decision-makers to make sound and evidence-based choices to address the needs of their communities. Through funding integration, we are able to optimize the value of investments, as well as streamline systems and services. This allows decision-makers to more efficiently plan their course of action, and feel more confident in knowing which challenges need to be addressed first.
Similarly, service providers benefit from funding integration because the alignment of funding and other resources allows for improved service outcomes and a better overall experience for service users. By integrating, rather than duplicating, communities are able to achieve an optimal mix of services, and can plan better to meet the needs of their clients. By addressing unnecessary duplication, service staff will also have clearer boundaries for their roles, enhancing staff efficiency and engagement, as well as opening up resources for more effective service delivery.
All these benefits to funding integration eventually make their way to help seekers. By integrating funding within the service system, help seekers can identify the right help faster, access help more easily, and have an overall better service experience. Funding integration creates an environment where clients can more easily move through the social service system, allowing for an increased sense of control and self-efficacy.
#2 – An emphasis on using evidence-based data to make decisions
Decisions are hard to make – especially when they impact the lives of people. It is always important for those in decision-making positions to feel confident in their decisions. Evidence-based decision-making is a best practice that uses data to obtain an objective assessment of community needs. The result is more data available to the community, which leads to increased objectivity, and helps to depoliticize change. Ultimately, decision-makers will be able to back up their decisions with accurate and representative data, allowing for more appropriate and meaningful action. To support this, HelpSeeker built a digital social decision support platform that streamlines social research and data analysis to shorten the time it takes to move from research to action.
A key component of funding integration is to enhance existing supports rather than create new ones – integrate, not duplicate. By using evidence-based data, we are able to more accurately compare the needs of the community with what services and support are currently available.
Through this comparison, we can see if appropriate care is in place, or if services should be reorganized to better reflect the needs of the community. Essentially, by using evidence and data, funding allocation to services is more strategic, and decision makers can obtain a clearer understanding of where priorities lie, which leads to better social outcomes.
#3 – The Importance of moving to a community-based model
Achieving positive social outcomes is hard. With so many different players, including government, social-service providers, advocacy groups, and community members, it’s difficult to get everybody on the same page.
Acknowledging the ideological differences between service providers is an essential first step. Everyone has a different way of doing things, and that’s okay. In fact, more varied perspectives may lead to something completely unexpected, yet innovative and positive. But it is important for those involved in the funding integration process to find common goals and values.
Moving from hierarchical power structures to a more community-based model that emphasizes co-creation is integral to executing funding integration. Why? Because community problems require community solutions. Decisions should be made with and by the community rather than for them by somebody else. Input from different actors involved in the integration of funding streams is necessary to obtain an accurate understanding of:
- The current state of the community
- What needs to be done
- How to go about creating the necessary changes
One way to ensure all those involved are promptly and consistently kept up to speed is to build a coalition within the community to share knowledge with the influencers and decision-makers. Establishing a core group to manage all the moving parts involved in the funding integration process helps to liaise different sectors in the community. Furthermore, this coordination of community, with the resultant collective brainstorming, helps the community achieve the maximum possible benefit.
#4 – Transformative change does not happen overnight
In theory, it all sounds easy, right? Just gather everyone in the community to work together, and suddenly social issues no longer exist! If only that were the case. Funding integration is admittedly a process with many layers. Laying the groundwork to understand the needs of the community and getting everyone on board is an essential foundation for this type of change. But it is not a fast or easy process.
Our funding integration course included a case study on the funding integration process in Lethbridge, AB. It was clear that Lethbridge understood the need to produce various pieces to achieve the transformative change they were looking for. By conducting a systems mapping of services and obtaining an integrated needs assessment and social impact audit, Lethbridge was able to assess the demand for and supply of services in their community. They had the necessary data to help them develop their community-driven wellbeing and safety strategy that better coordinates and integrates their social service sector. This data was incredibly powerful and was a driving force in their ability to spark systems change.
#5 – Resistance should be expected
Not everyone in the community will be happy with the decisions made during the funding integration process.
For one thing, there may be a lot of duplication in certain service areas, and funding may need to be redirected. Obviously, no service provider wants their funding cut. As with all things, communication is key in the funding integration process. Those involved should understand what to expect, and how certain choices will have an effect on their organization and services.
Back to our example of Lethbridge, it was made clear that support from city leaders, city managers, and the provincial government was integral to the funding integration process. In addition to having an evidence-driven approach, by having key stakeholders affirm your decisions, the community may be more likely to accept those decisions.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that organizations used to receiving consistent funding may be most reluctant to experience any change.
However, this isn’t to say service providers can’t be brought along on the journey of transformation. In fact, having accountabilities and relationships with service providers can catalyze innovation, and help service providers better adapt to changing community needs. This is why it is very important that shared goals and values are consistent through every step of this process, serving as constant reminders of what the community as a whole wishes to achieve.
What am I supposed to do now?
If you made it this far down the post, you can consider yourself an expert in funding integration now! (Just kidding.) But I hope you’ve learned a few things about what this process looks like. Obviously, all of it is easier said than done. The amount of work and coordination it takes to ensure funding in your community is well integrated and aligned with community needs is a lot. But it is surely worth doing.
If you remember only one thing from this post, let it be this: Funding integration ensures that money to the community is allocated through data-informed decisions made by the community for the community. You’ve probably guessed by now that today’s buzzword is community. Why? Because community problems require community solutions.
Funding Integration 101 is one of many courses we offer to support community decision-makers. If you are a Community Success Hub subscriber, you can check in with your HelpSeeker Community Success lead about registering for an upcoming course. If you are not currently subscribed to the Community Success Hub, you can learn more about it, and chat with our sales team by scheduling a consultation here.