Rethinking Outreach, Engagement Strategies for Human Services Agencies

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The broad adoption of social media, mobile devices and responsive web content demands that human services agencies think differently about their outreach and engagement tactics with today’s connected citizens. If not, they risk the possibility of failing to meet their core missions and goals of providing services to those in need.

While improving customer self-service channels and offering the most important content online seems obvious, today’s leaders need to plan appropriately to consistently deliver critical information in a way that’s accessible, personable and secure across modern platforms. Digital engagement technologies can play an important role helping to address a range of very real social needs that affect mothers, fathers, children and communities every day: the non-custodial parent struggling to find employment to sustain themselves and meet their child support obligations; children entering the welfare system whose relatives wrestle with addiction; or teenage mothers lacking the most basic nutritional information, for example. Programs and information that can help in these scenarios exist – but getting that information into the right hands at the right time remains an opportunity that modern digital outreach efforts can help address.

Instead of the usual broad-based outreach campaigns, agencies need to target individuals in need through today’s widely available digital channels, including through mobile applications and social media channels. Now, agency leaders can communicate gender-, geographic- and location-specific messages that encourage the population they serve to learn more about a support program by visiting a campaign-specific website where they can complete an anonymous, online screening to determine eligibility. Digital processes can help human services personnel more effectively identify and recruit the best potential foster parents in high-risk communities. Agencies can target and engage the most highly desired segments of the community population based not only on their location but also other important key markers including gender, education, profession and more. To top it off, all of these channels have near and real-time analytics capabilities that track the digital footprint of anyone engaged so that program effectiveness can be measured and adjusted throughout the recruitment cycle.

While digital engagement clearly offers important opportunities for citizens and agencies, some leaders struggle with how and when to start. The answer: It all starts with a plan.

  1. Develop a Vision: Learn how digital technologies are used in other industries, and leverage ideas to develop a compel­ling vision for how you would use the technology. More important, think about how you want it to improve outcomes for the agency and the population you serve
  2. Define Policy and Technology Boundaries: Using the vision document, review your goals with legal, information technology and policy staff to define what compliance, control and privacy boundaries should exist. In these conversations, keep the focus on the right course through these con­straints rather than letting them be show-stoppers.
  3. Mature Competencies: Assess your staff and evaluate how you’ll need to prepare them for this new world. There might be required training and additional skill sets needed for them to succeed.  Don’t overlook industry partners that have deep specialties and can provide key guidance.
  4. Adopt Technology Platform: Define the technology tool sets that will enable the capabili­ties you seek and make sure they can support privacy and compliance mandates.
  5. Execute Plan: Define specific, incre­mental phases that will take you toward your vision and start the journey.

Real change requires a shift in behavior or position from one belief or understanding to another more desired belief or understanding that will alter an existing behavior. Consumer organizations learned at the dawn of the internet that digital channels were nothing more than another medium to deliver their message and engage potential customers on a continual basis.

Human services agencies have some catching up to do. The opportunity is tremendous, and the potential positive outcomes for the most vulnerable populations can be life-changing. It simply starts with each agency systemically committing to establishing a digital identity and taking that first step.

By Franco Amalfi, director of digital engagement strategy at Oracle in collaboration with Donna-Mae Shyduik, director of health & human services program lead at Oracle and Rick Pugh, senior director, solution and services, customer and digital experience at Primitive Logic. 

Rethinking Outreach, Engagement Strategies for Human Services Agencies was originally published @ The Chronicle of Social Change and has been syndicated with permission.

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