Many people know that change rarely happens quickly within government, particularly at the federal level. When important legislation gets passed, oftentimes that passage is just the beginning of a multi-year implementation effort.
Foster America fellow Asad Bandeali knows just how much goes into enacting such systems change.
For 18 months, from October, 2019 through April 2021, Asad worked for St. Louis County’s Department of Public Health and Human Services in Minnesota. The county, which shares a border with Canada in the north, contains both urban and rural areas, and also shares land with two sovereign Chippewa nations.
During his time there, Asad acted as the county’s strategy lead for implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act, a 2018 law that shifts federal funding in child welfare toward more prevention-oriented services for families and children. In many cases, child welfare agencies must revise some of their current service offerings in order to receive funding from Family First. Asad oversaw multiple projects that fell under the umbrella of Family First-oriented initiatives.
With a background in human-centered design and change management, one of his main goals across all projects was to include community voice in program design and implementation.
“I like going in and digging into the elements. With human centered design, strategy and facilitation, you’re bringing people along for the ride, you’re building relationships,” he said. “The actual work is in elevating the work of community partners, then second was a mindset shift, and conversations within the agency.”
One of the main ways Asad included community voice was through the Opioid Epidemic Response Fund. The county had nearly $500,000 in funds to use related to addressing family wellbeing and challenges related to substance use.
“Over a nine-month period, I ran planning sessions, and spoke with over 85 stakeholders,” Asad said, adding that they ensured they spoke with community providers and stakeholders from both the north and south parts of the county, which are culturally and geographically different from one another, were equally represented.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Asad worked to continue hosting sessions virtually, adjusting to ensure as many people as possible were consulted in the planning phase.
“We ended up funding about nine different programs, from kinship navigation to peer recovery support, parent mentors, and others.”
Asad and county officials worked with partner sites throughout the process, from designing what the programs would look like, to hiring, and launching pilot programs.
These programs shift to a prevention-focused approach, are in line with the goals of Family First, and also continue to build capacity and trust within the community.
While working with external community partners, Asad simultaneously worked on increasing internal capacity among county staff. He proposed an internal communications strategy to inform case managers of the additional services made available via the Opioid Epidemoc Response Funds, and a training program for 150 county staff members, ensuring that trainings were equity-focused.
Asad wanted to ensure that the mindset shift within the organization – moving from gathering data for compliance to gathering data for improvement – lasted beyond his tenure as a fellow. He created reporting templates for staff to use, ensuring that in addition to tracking how many children receive services, they were also for tracking equity and inclusion.
The template includes questions like, “How is equity/diversity/inclusion being addressed with this program/service?”
Ultimately, Asad knew that in order for his work to be successful long-term, it was critical to build trust both within the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and with community partners.
“Change management takes time,” he said. “Those relationships take months to create. I took initiative to get it going, and it took a lot of conversations, sometimes hard conversations, to get to a point where the person respects you. With respect comes honor and understanding.”
Although his Foster America fellowship ended, Asad plans to continue using his skills in systems change, human-centered design and innovation coaching through his consulting firm, A Spark Consulting. Asad consults with governmental agencies, nonprofits, social impact agencies, and tech organizations who work with the public sector. To learn more, contact Asad on his website.