The importance of thorough planning when engaging in systems change cannot be stated strongly enough. Coordinated entry planning begins with these basic questions:
- Access: How will clients enter the system? How is equal access ensured?
- Assessment: What is the most efficient intake process? Which questions provide good data and good referrals? Can data be shared?
- Referral: How will the housing inventory be tracked and maintained to ensure accurate client to provider matches? Through what mechanism will referrals be made? How will providers decline a referral?
- Accountability: How will the process be managed and overseen? Who needs to be involved in policy making? How will the system and services be evaluated? How will evaluation results drive decision making?
Perhaps the most difficult part of the planning process is compelling stakeholders such as funders, government, and nonprofit service providers to embrace and participate in systems change.
It isn’t enough to just accept that primary funding sources insist on this change. The mandate of coordinated entry is tied to a larger shift in how social services will be offered to address homelessness going forward. There is a movement away from the historical model of housing ready to a rapid re-housing model, which requires a profound culture change in the beliefs and attitudes about emergency assistance to homeless and at-risk households. It asks the provider, funder, and government agencies to view homelessness and housing issues as solvable. Coordinated entry, prevention, rapid re-housing, tailored services, and linkages to economic opportunities, are systems-change models that ask stakeholders to:
- Trust the homeless/at-risk household to do what is needed to work toward self-sufficiency once matched with the right provider
- Trust the lead agency that performs the coordinated entry intake to match a household with the right provider
- Trust housing providers to apply client-centered and strengths-based approaches to case management to move households quickly from shelter to permanent housing
- Trust that funders will support the new system for the long term and work with providers to create reasonable service goals and outcome expectations
Before there can be trust in the process and new system, planners must build relationships to create a spirit of collaboration between all necessary partners. This is accomplished through intensive and well-targeted communications plans. An ideal plan includes developing and maintaining consistent messages about why coordinated entry is an efficient, effective, and proven practice for matching homeless households and those at risk with the providers and services that best meets their needs. A strong communication plan during planning, implementation, and evaluation of the coordinated entry system and other associated system changes will result in strong relationships.
Developing relationships with stakeholders is crucial to build trust and to move the idea of coordinated entry to its delivery. Change is difficult in and of itself despite the opportunities that are inherent with well-planned and targeted systems change. It is worth some effort to read up on change- management techniques. A report by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken, “The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management” made available from McKinsey & Company, offers valuable insight on implementing successful systems change.