Tagged ‘integrated systems‘

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time


There are things I’ve done to facilitate group discussions that, in retrospect, make me roll my eyes and yearn for witness protection.  Even more astonishing than the cockamamie things I asked people to do is the fact that 99.9% of the time, people would do them!

Without flinching,

  • The head of UMOS agreed to write a ‘pressing community need’ on a balloon and tack it to the wall to be popped later by the expert facilitator as we established need priorities.
  • Waukesha County’s budget director along with his key staff wrote their ‘most important outcomes’ on paper airplanes and sailed them at me and my co-facilitator in a flurry which had us scrambling around the floor trying to pick them up and read them.  (We planned pre-flight but not post-flight.)
  • A police chief used crayons to draw his favorite summertime memory as a boy which had him on his bike in the hills overlooking his town and then label the picture “Lucky.”  (This was actually one that worked pretty well – helping a new Youth Collaborative harken back to the golden days of freedom and playfullness of their youth.  Unfortunately, they then went on to plan more structured activities for kids.  Oh well.)
  • Emergency shelter directors constructed their ‘visions’ of how the Shelter Task Force should operate using (what else?) Tinkertoys.  (Didn’t work – they all looked like spaceships.)

In addition to this kind of stuff, I went through a period of taking little jars of Play-Doh to every meeting.  I probably have more Play-Doh in my office right this second that Milwaukee’s biggest day care — because, you know or maybe you don’t, that you really can’t use Play-Doh twice.  Has to be new.

Anyway, participants in a planning meeting will generally do whatever the facilitator asks them to do if the facilitator conveys a genuine commitment to the process and a real enthusiasm for the results.  If the facilitator equivocates, then people will hang back.  I witnessed someone at a large gathering not so long ago open the meeting by promising a great icebreaker and then, surprisingly, losing his nerve at the last minute.  If you’re going to do something different, you have to plunge in like you believe it. 

Now I pretty much stick with the simple and striking.  Like this ball.  This is possibly the most enticing ball on the planet.  So I use it to do introductions or I’ll just have it sitting on the table available for people to  pick up and fiddle with.  People like it that I thought to bring some toys; most people will get into it.  It helps them play while being serious.  Takes the edge off.  Gives them something to laugh about.  Makes the room warmer and happier. 

Sometimes, though, people gather to plan or discuss or strategize and they are just too up tight to pick up that ball.  The ball will sit there the entire session.  Like it was made of crystal.  Everyone is afraid of the ball, ignores it, looks at their hands.  When that happens, witness protection is looking better and better.

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Hello. Can I Come In?

For years, I’ve complained about human services agencies with locked front doors.  Agencies that require you to push the little doorbell, then talk to the receptionist, then get buzzed in, and then sign in.  One agency I frequent even asks me to include my license plate # on the sign-in sheet.  When they let me in, it’s not clear what criteria I met or failed to meet.  Did I not look dangerous?  Did they assume I didn’t have a cute pink pearl-handled revolver in my big Coach bag (like I even know what a revolver is….although, happily, I do know what a Coach bag is).  So agencies are worried about security — after 9/11, everyone got intense about security so I always attributed it to that and shrugged, oh well.

A dear colleague of mine, Ramon Wagner, had a completely different approach.  He talked all the time about front porches and how agencies had to sit on their front porches (figuratively) to understand the world and their place in it.  He didn’t believe in locked doors and, to this day, Community Advocates, the agency he founded, is a walk-in place. Stop in any day and you will see dozens of people in the waiting room who just walked in looking for help.  This is more than just not having a locked door.  Community Advocates, probably without knowing it, was on the cutting edge of a new way of thinking about human services than can be summed up in the word welcoming.

For the past few months, I’ve been assisting the Community Services Branch of the Behavioral Health Division in its efforts to establish a Comprehensive Continuous Integrated System of Care.  Fundamentally, this is about integrated substance abuse and mental health treatment services but, to me, the overarching value in the approach is the concept of welcoming.  Drs. Minkoff and Cline, the primary consultants to Milwaukee County on this effort, explain this concept in an article “Developing Welcoming Systems for Individuals with Co-Occurring Disorders: The Role of the Comprehensive Continues Integrated System of Care Model,” found at

Welcoming is about not having a locked door to anything.  At least as I understand it so far, it means that a troubled person presenting him or herself for help is welcomed, helped and respected.  “You’re in the right place.  We’re glad to see you.”  That’s the message.  Even if a person ends up needing to go to another program with more expertise or somehow can’t qualify for what’s available on-site, the message remains – “it’s good that you’ve decided to seek help and we will help you find it.”  This isn’t just at the front door but throughout an organization.

When people are sick and down, when they feel they’ve lost everything and have no choice but to ask for help, they don’t need locked doors and stern looks.  They need ackknowledgement, a smile, and maybe a nice cup of coffee.  In short, they need to be welcomed.


Jan Wilberg Janice Wilberg

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