As a social worker, I was used to having team meetings with clients and their social support systems. Without the insights that come from a client’s support system, it can be difficult to know if the proposed intervention is relevant to the client’s needs.
When NCCD works with an agency or jurisdiction, we follow a similar process. We convene stakeholders and form a workgroup to communicate with throughout the project. We need local expertise to ensure we are collecting the right information and talking to the appropriate people; we need to know that our work will be useful.
Convening a stakeholder group is also the first step in system mapping. Stakeholders can help us understand the system and create a preliminary map to identify inputs and activities. They can help us define ideal outcomes and connect us with the data that will inform our analysis. External stakeholders should be included in this process since both internal and external activities and inputs combine to determine outcomes. It is important to understand external processes and obtain external data whenever possible.
Once these data are collected, it’s time to measure the outcomes of these combinations of inputs and activities. In health systems, outcomes are often measured in terms of access to and quality of care, or customer satisfaction. In the juvenile justice system, there are similar outcome measures such as equity, efficiency, community safety, and recidivism. These outcomes can be measured for subsets of the system and for the system as a whole.
Is the system performing poorly? The answer could be yes—see my previous blog about the reasons for lack of systems thinking in juvenile justice. But now that the system has been mapped and analyzed, it is possible to form hypotheses about the reasons for that poor performance. These hypotheses will be influenced by data, policy and procedure analysis, and knowledge of research and best practice, and used to form recommendations for system improvement. The recommendations can be tested using predictive modeling to assess the impact of the reform, including unintended consequences.
One of the biggest differences I see between the health care system and the juvenile justice system is that in health care, we don’t predict whether the individual will fail the system, we predict whether the system will fail the individual. In juvenile justice, it seems to be the other way around. However, by taking a system view, we can be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, we can put measures in place to ensure that systems are performing in a way that produces the best possible outcomes for youth, families, and communities.
Next week, I will discuss race neutrality in juvenile justice. Check back here to read that blog post or any of my previous posts in this series.