In the last blog I wrote my experience transforming Fulton County’s (Georgia) Sequential Intercept Model Mapping Workshop strategic plan into a task force focused on reducing the prevalence of individuals with mental disorders in local jails. This task force was a multi-agency collaboration with representation from all areas of county, city, and state government, law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, and local behavioral health providers.

Bringing together a complex, fragmented, and diverse system requires the right people doing the right work at the right time with the right information who are able to make the right decisions. There are multiple components of success to take into consideration while working with a diverse system.

Have a High-Level Champion

Social justice champions provide insight and guidance when complex systems seek to advance change in their operations and the communities they impact. When a system is fragmented, demands for systems change build as service delivery devolves, resulting in poor quality and ineffective service provision. Advancing a justice-centered approach that leads to the sustainability of efforts requires a high-level champion. The champion maintains the vision, strengthens collaboration, and drives action from the system stakeholders through their respective contributions. High-level champions center people.

Take Action to Remedy Limitations

Take action once limitations are discovered within the system and/or the Task Force process. The adage, “strike while the iron is hot,” cannot be overstated. Addressing concerns or impasses upon discovery enables the system players to remain accountable and take ownership of figuring out solutions. When there are multiple areas of focus, and different tasks that need to be accomplished concurrently, break up the work of the larger group. Compartmentalizing and piecemealing work, especially by the expertise of the representatives, allows the work to move forward in efficient ways. Assigning the work to individuals/agencies familiar with the action steps necessary to achieve success is practical and highly effective. Establishing ground rules, clear roles, and responsibilities for who does the work and how it gets done is also critical to keeping the work moving forward and reducing ambiguity that may arise when systems players encounter inherent overlap.

Provide Opportunities for Everyone to Share Input

When we create a safe space for discussion that enables mutual respect, everyone feels necessary to the process. Everyone has a voice and should be afforded the opportunity to express their beliefs and ideas for system change. When more vocal members dominate conversations, quieter system players become disengaged. When meeting cadences are established, organizers and project managers should offer a variety of modalities to ensure 100 percent participation. In laying the foundation, always create a roster of participants that includes contact information; this way, the information is readily accessible to you when it becomes necessary to contact the stakeholders.

Set Meeting Schedules Early

Another key step for success is to get on system stakeholders’ calendars early. The more time that you allot for participants, the better. Everyone is busy. It is easier to plan accordingly when meetings are known in advance. It also enables system participants the opportunity to “show up” prepared to be engaged and to be present in the moment. There is no larger waste of time than holding a meeting and having participants in attendance but not present.  Respect the time of your participants.

Revert to Building Blocks for Success

Some components for success may appear to be limited to basic principles and seem elementary. However, when managing a multi-agency planning initiative that is charged with analyzing a criminal justice system as it is encountered by individuals with mental health conditions, small steps are essential to successful and needed conversations to transform the system.

In my final and third blog, I will share the successes and lessons learned from the Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force project.