Chicago Wards Sustaining Deep System Changes

August 14, 2014
Carol Ende, The Eden Alternative Blog

Listening to the news I learned a ward in Chicago gave their budgetary power to the community instead of to a small group of government officials.  They talked about turning over $1.3 million to the people of the ward to decide how to spend this fund on capital improvements.  The results were over 1,300 people participated in voting on 21 projects. Fifty-three percent of the $1 million budget went to street repairs. The rest went to trees for parks, sidewalks, a playground and … murals.  Before, almost all the funds went to street repairs.

I immediately thought, if they can do this why is the long term care world having difficulties moving towards person-directed care?  And why is sustaining changes so hard?  This Chicago ward I’m sure had to follow federal, state and city regulations. They would have changes within the leadership team and in community members.  They would have people who do not agree and are from diverse backgrounds. What made them successful at sustaining this amazing change?

I tuned in to see what magic wand their leadership had.  They told the story of how leadership decided to make the change, arranged for a series of neighborhood meetings for people to receive information and encourage engagement, sub-committees were formed, a ballot was created and the whole community (anyone over 16 of age) voted.  One person noted that a lot of work went into each of these steps. That was probably an understatement.

Yet what I wanted to know is how they were keeping this going?  Why did it not go back to the old way when leadership changed?  My guess is the answers lie within the processes which lead to identify what needed to be change.  Current policies and procedures had to change and be re-written.  No longer would the old ones work. They had to change the systems of implementation.  They had to change their language as they engaged people in the procedures to ensure they knew their ideas were heard and they had to make sure the new approach meet federal, state and city regulations.  I realized quickly it was more than having a ‘street party’ for the people of the ward.  It was changing the whole system and embedding the new way into the daily life of the people.

To truly make change become the new way of doing things we must remove all of the old institutional systems, including the policies and procedures.  I wonder if people in this community will ever let the old ways creep back in when leadership and new community members join the ward?  I hope not.  They sound like they are building a caring community where everyone’s ideas count when it comes to how to spend $1.3 million dollars.  If they can do this, I believe the long term care world can too.

1 Comment. Leave new

Barbara Smullen
August 14, 2014 7:01 pm

Excellent , interesting and inspiring reflection…

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