Technical Solutions For Adaptive Problems:
Government’s vision, especially at the federal and state levels, generally coincides with the length of its budget cycle: one year budget, one year vision; two year budget, two year vision. Because of the short cycle, there is a high sense of urgency to get results that the public can quickly see and easily understand. Government funding and new approaches to child safety are expected to achieve clear results within the vision of the appropriating body: usually one or two years.
Once more, child protection agencies and other members of the Children’s Safety Net are predictably less than fully successful. Along with limited resources and less than optimal operational capacity, the results to be achieved ordinarily require both technical and adaptive change.
· Many people and organizations within the Children’s Safety Net have to modify and adjust their behavior and business processes.
· New relationships must be forged and nurtured.
· Training must be developed and delivered.
· New accounting mechanisms may need to be developed, tested, approved, and implemented.
· Performance measures likely have to be created, data collected and analyzed, and results reported.
New and significantly revised approaches to child protection always require adaptive change. Technical change usually accompanies the adaptive change but adaptation is the first and primary order of business. By definition, there is no routine or prescription for adaptive change. The path from the present to the future is vague. Cooperation among members of the Children’s Safety Net is uncertain. Some level of opposition to the necessary change is a given, if only because the routine is known and the adaptation is unknown. The hard work of managing the change is often avoided.
Even though these unavoidable characteristics of adaptive change are well-known to everyone involved, the high sense of urgency to get favorable results blinds otherwise rational people to these realities. An unfortunate consequence is that change processes that are primarily adaptive are most often viewed from a technical viewpoint. Their success is then evaluated as if there were a routine or prescription that is either followed or not followed. These troublesome dynamics and inappropriate perspectives will, at worst, guarantee failure and, at best, assure under-achievement. The promise and anticipation of positive change are quickly replaced by acceptance of mediocre performance.
To combat the acceptance of mediocrity, a new leadership for child protection must emerge. In turn, it must then receive support from all levels of the child protection system, including legislative bodies, related administrative bureaucracies, the courts, public and private agencies, the media, and the general public. There must, in turn, be a sustained effort to provide timely, honest, complete, and accurate feedback about progress (or lack of progress) to all stakeholders, with special attention to legislators and the general public. Additionally, stakeholders must be helped to understand and accept the simple truth that significant, adaptive change does not come quickly. To the contrary, important innovation and serious adaptive change always take longer and are less smooth than anyone expects.
There will inevitably be mistakes and occasional failures along the path to excellence, as promising innovations and new adaptations stabilize and become routine. The media and others pursuing their political agendas will continue to decry every mistake and point to it as evidence of incompetence.
- They will express outrage with every failure and define it as a major crisis.
- They will characterize themselves as champions of child safety and demand reform.
- Concurrently, they will advocate for sweeping change based on their technical approaches and their technical solutions.
- They know what is wrong and how to fix it.