Jobs for All... An Olmstead Initiative:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts
Grant number, name, and location: Jobs for All... An Olmstead Initiative Athens GA, #E-9-4-2-0114
Grant recipient: Institute on Human Development and Disability/University of Georgia
Project lead: Institute on Human Development and Disability/University of Georgia
Subcontractors: Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Alabama WIB, Janice Capilouto Center for the Deaf, Central Alabama Easter Seals, East Alabama Easter Seals, Department of Rehabilitation Services, Department of Medicaid, Governor's Office on Disabilities, Small Business Development Centers, STAR Program.
The Georgia Workforce Action project was housed at the University of Georgia's Institute for Human Development and Disability. The grant was complemented by a broad host of partnerships at a systemic and practical level and by the Cobb County Community Services Board, an organization in the greater Atlanta area that had received an ODEP Customized Employment grant. As with other grants in close proximity, these two worked with and benefited from one another.
- Broad state-level buy-in was an important aspect of a collaborative systems change.
- Partners were often willing to contribute time, resources and possibly funding to a clearly defined goal with obvious beneficial outcomes.
- Systemic and policy change were best guided through direct work resulting in tangible best practices.
The Employment First Institute
The Georgia Workforce Action grant was developing a free-standing Employment First Institute that would allow them to sustain efforts begun under the grant as well as build and expand these activities (click here for more information).
The Employment First Institute was a formal attempt to create a collaborative entity involving a wide range of state organizations and stakeholders. At the time of this writing, the work group included:
- State Independent Living Center
- Vocational Rehabilitation
- Shepherd Center - a community provider of direct services, including Benefits Planning, Assistance, and Outreach to over half the state
- Governor's Council on Disabilities
- Cobb/Douglas Community Services Board - the Developmental Disabilities funding conduit and recipient of the state's Customized Employment grant
- Institute for Human Development and Disability - the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Georgia
- Advocacy Center - the state's Protection and Advocacy Center
- One-Stop representative
The work group also focused on efforts to expand the membership of critical stakeholders. Future potential partners included the National Center on Workforce and Disability and representatives from other departments within Labor. (Vocational Rehabilitation was located with the Dept. of Labor, but in a different division than the One-Stops and other agencies.) The group had recently met for a two-day retreat to refine its goals and next steps. Attendees listed the following five points as major areas of effort that would, potentially and in time, become the full mandate of the institute (click here for more information):
- Create, sustain, and disseminate innovation and innovative practices
- Work with systems and policies to improve outcomes
- Provide technical assistance to, and potentially assist in the creation of, community providers
- Transform attitudes and perceptions
- Provide leadership in the connectivity of innovative work
Following are the details of these roles as perceived by the group.
1. Create, Sustain, and Disseminate Innovation and Innovative Practices
After four years of activity in the Workforce Action grant and five in the Customized Employment grant in Cobb County, the group recognized that considerable innovation existed in the greater Atlanta region. To a large extent, stakeholders knew what must be done to accomplish their goals in a microcosm. They faced, then, the challenge of broadening the applicability of their practices beyond metro Atlanta to the larger rural areas of the state. As such, the institute would disseminate and cultivate innovation throughout the state.
2. Work with Systems and Policies to Improve Outcomes
Group members thought this goal would include the need to collect better data about the state's outcomes and improve systemic collaboration. Many stakeholders felt that policy innovation was already handled sufficiently, and that the most significant innovations must occur through practice on the ground. Beyond data gathering, it seemed likely this function would expand if the institute maintained its effort over several years.
3. Provide Technical Assistance to, and Potentially Assist in the Creation of, Community Providers
As community service providers are on the front lines of service provision - and also often a weak link in the same - group members considered this aspect of the mission important aspect. To a large extent, the role of the Workforce Action grant had been to provide this type of assistance. It had also become part of the Cobb Community Services Board's workload. The institute, as such, planned to provide the leverage for local systems to receive training and technical assistance to achieve better employment outcomes.
4. Transform Attitudes and Perceptions
Many of the stakeholders felt that the most significant and immediate goal was to create attitude change among employers, the community as a whole, and people with disabilities. Many felt there was a challenge in measuring the effectiveness of change on this level. Others felt that the attitude change would occur as a by-product of increased and diversified employment.
5. Provide Leadership in the Connectivity of Innovative Work
Again, given the recognition of considerable pockets of innovation in the state, the institute's primary functions included a leadership role to encourage collaboration and dissemination of these practices. Furthermore, it had become clear that a certain mix of local partners was essential to promulgating effective practices. For example, it was impossible to create sustainable local change without the buy-in of local Vocational Rehabilitation counselors. As such, the need for collaboration and coordination at the state level, while not entirely sufficient for change, was nonetheless necessary.
Forming the Institute
After outlining the goals of the institute, stakeholders discussed the details of bringing the institute together, including methods of funding efforts, staffing, and specific activities. Various stakeholders agreed to contribute funding and overhead services to the institute, and discussed strategies for pursuing foundation and corporate support. Group members agreed that an executive director should be sought, and discussion of that role's necessary qualifications were in process.
Overall, it seemed that the first year of the institute's efforts would be funded between stakeholders and the remainder of the Workforce Action grant. Group members hoped that the efforts of the project would create a foundation for further sustainability beyond this point.