Finding Leverage to Improve our Community, Social & Health Service Systems


Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 10.26.40 AMYesterday as I scrolled through a few hundred of my 2017 tweets, I was struck by the number of posts pointing to the ineffectiveness of our Community, Social and Health (CSH) services. This year alone, the reports of service delivery problems and system failures filled Twitter, Facebook and news feeds with near daily stories of service users who were left feeling unsatisfied by the services and systems in place…designed to help and support them. (see recent CTV news article (Dec 18th, 2017). 

I work in Community Development & Performance Evaluation. I work directly with individuals, organizations and systems. In my world of Sustainable Community Development (SCD), community-directed processes use relationships, human values and active learning, to share and enhance communication within a fluid system (Maser, 1996). The goal of SCD is to apply a systems thinking lens to avoid the quick fixes that over time can manifest into more complex wicked problems. Within the practice of SCD are a set of Community Development  principles that support the efforts to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions that reduce barriers to health, happiness and well-being for community populations.

Looking back and reflecting on the reported media relating to various CSH service reports, I was challenged to look for the potential leverage points that could improve the service culture and remove barriers for individuals needing the support of CSH services. Leverage points are the places within complex systems, where small shifts or changes in one area create bigger changes across the system ( The current CSH service culture requires a reset on some of the beliefs and values that influence its management systems, practices and behaviours  (Dennison,1990). For change to happen within the CSH service culture, the system of service providers and programs need to find the points of influence for shifting the current service mindset to more effectively align with the needs and expectations of its users.

Change begins with  solid communication plan. A plan for services and stakeholders to be open and honest without the fear of judgement or reprisal for disagreeing or sharing a different perspective. A plan for frequent sharing failed attempts and lessons learned along the way. And most of all, a solid plan to allow for a consistent flow of quality information that can be trigger new innovations and ideas for constant improvements to the services (Page, 2011). In relation to a larger service system, the goal must remain to create positive change utilizing many of the Community Development guiding principles. The focus should remain on providing the inspirations and reinforcements for behaviours that demonstrate  a real investment in collaboration and partnerships using metrics that reflect this. However, the existing principles are limited in focus and don’t message the need to invest in strengthening services across boundaries and systems. The service system’s need the right tools and training for improving quality and overall effectiveness of the complete service journey. As it stands, individual service system members are held accountable to different metrics, standards and beliefs with no single set of principles to guide their collective action and impact. As such, translating the existing principles to the direct service levels can be particularly challenging for individual service providers who want to create systemic change but are not held accountable within the context of the larger system. All of this has led me to ask, “What if, we could improve the quality and effectiveness of our human service systems by simply incorporating the principles of Service Design into our models of delivery?

According to popular Systems Thinker and author Donella Meadows,  “the behavior of a system cannot be understood simply by knowing the elements of which the system is made”. At a basic level, Service Design is the act of planning and organizing the components of a service or service system with the goal of understanding to improve the end-to-end service experience for users. The Principles of Service Design are similar to the principles of Community Development, but they drive attention to finding ways to improve the overall effectiveness of the whole service system which is beyond the current set of Community Development principles. The addition of Service Design elements to the existing model would help the current CSH providers uncover a better pathway to delivering the outcomes and supports user wants and needs; not to mention, the delivery of services at the level of quality expected. Resulting in a system that would be both responsive to individual needs while also meeting the service expectations of all users.

Combined, the two sets of principles form the beginnings of a powerful and certainly more inspiring  #CSHServiceDesign Manifesto (of sorts). Simply stated, a manifesto is a statement of ideals and intentions about what a group or organization feels is most important to their work or cause. In this case, I have only the beginnings of a draft set of words and phrases, but I have the hope to inspire others to contribute to this potentially important redesign. The redesign of services within a service system with the potential to deliver more responsive, humane, accessible and effective Community, Social and Health supports and services.*

Below is a draft of a new set of guiding principles for CSH service providers and systems. Please feel free to share your comments and ideas below or tweet to engage others and include the ##CSHServiceDesign so I can keep track and provide updates in this process. 

The Melding of Two into One #CSHServiceDesign

As the developers, designers and decision makers of Community, Social & Health Services, we aim to meet the needs and expectation of our users from the beginning-to-the-end of all our user’s service journeys. To achieve this, we (and our System of co-providers) will incorporate the following human-centered guiding principles into each “Service Design”.

All Services will be Designed for…

Participation- Every service will include opportunities for those involved and those impacted to contribute value and be co-creators of the design. Input and collaboration at all stages of the Design from the inception of the idea, through to the evaluation will be the norm.

Purpose– Every service will have a clear intended purpose based on  demand and needs of users. Service delivery will be provided within an effective and efficient system rather than a patchwork of incomplete service components. Coupled with the belief that service users can achieve more from supportive interactions that include timely and relevant information and resources when they are needed.

Empowerment- Every service experience will put the needs of service users before the needs of the Service or Service System.  All service processes will be respectful of user ability to participate and open to opportunities to redesign or eliminate experiences that reduce control for users.  Services will aim to inform AND empower users. Services and System will value the user’s service investment in terms of the commodities of time, energy and individual resources.

Value- Every service experience will offer the same level of value for service expectations for quality in all, (if not most) of the following areas- useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable and usable. By consistently delivering quality services, measurable impacts will be achieved across the social/cultural, environmental, and economic systems where all users are welcome and gain equitable value from having access to barrier-free seamless service systems.

Responsiveness– Every service will respond to events or situations that cause disruption to the usual or expected process without reaction. Services will offer a flexible approach to accommodate “differences” but responds as if these were the “norm”. The interconnected Service components will work to relieve disruptions for users and view any “differences” as opportunities to learn.  The diverse needs, backgrounds, abilities and experiences of users will be used to learn from and improve the functioning and performance of the whole System. 

Accountability- Every service will focus on delivering value to users through experiences within a Responsive learning System. Accountability will include metrics that capture the outside/in perspective of the user experience in balance with the System’s operational needs. The focus will be on the effectiveness of the service design flow and delivering value as perceived from the user’s perspective.

Learning- Every service will be designed and launched as a minimum viable service (MVS) to reinforce the mindset that quality service delivery is never static. Therefor services will encourage and respond and share feedback and questions that lead to new skills, knowledge, and abilities for all users and stakeholders.  The service expectation will be holistic wellbeing and human connection. Using an outside/in lens, trust and empathy will be used to bind and strengthen service bonds. Together they will form the cornerstones of the formal and informal learning opportunities that exist within the human services ecosystem (individuals, families, communities and systems).

Sustainability- Every service is designed to complement and contribute to the System’s mission and overall operational functioning. Responsible governance will ensure each service component functions in alignment with user’s needs and for the System’s overall optimal performance. The System is responsible for building mindful human relationships that provide the advocacy and network supports needed for sustainable quality services. The key work of the System will be to ask the difficult questions like, “Should the Service be sustained?”

I welcome and would love to receive your ideas and feedback on this document. Please comment below, share or email me directly


  4. Bopp, M., & Bopp, J. (2001). Recreating the world: A practical guide to building sustainable communities. Calgary: Four Worlds Press.
  5. Dennison, D.R. Corporate Culture and Organizational Effectiveness. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1990.
  6. Ken Garland (1964), Image The First Things First Manifesto, accessed: November 26th, 2017
  7. Maser, C. (1996). Sustainable community development: principles and concepts.
  8. Page, M. B. (2011). Change happens: your guide to navigating change using the 5C Model. Victoria, BC: Authenticity Press.

*Organization or Service System level



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