Boulder County, Colorado, provides services to 294,000 individuals through more than 100 local agencies and organizations. To enhance program efficiency and improve cross-agency coordination, the county deployed Efforts to Outcomes (ETO™) software, a community-based, collaborative social services solution from Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Social Solutions. Now, multiple agencies within the county government—including Aging Services, Head Start, the Housing Counseling Program, and Community Justice Services—share participant data, resulting in coordinated services and reduced administrative overhead.
Residents of Boulder County, Colorado, are served by programs from more than 100 agencies and organizations. Until recently, there was minimal cross-agency reference and limited ability to address the diverse needs of program participants. As a result, individuals and families struggled to identify the right program to meet their needs. Even if a perfect fit was available, the lack of coordination across the more than 100 agencies and organizations made it unlikely that the connection would be made.
Additionally, reporting requirements were burdensome and inconsistent, making accountability and transparency at a community level nearly impossible. “There was no way to understand, from a community-wide perspective, the impact that we were having on people’s lives,” says Robin Bohannan, Director of Community Services for Boulder County.
||The Efforts to Outcomes platform has helped us to more efficiently allocate resources, and to more holistically address participant and family needs.
Director of Community Services, Boulder County
In 2008, Boulder County reached out to technology partner Social Solutions—a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner—for help developing a community-based, collaborative social services infrastructure. Social Solutions is the leading provider of performance management software for human services, connecting efforts to outcomes, people to social services, and service providers and communities to funders. The company’s Efforts to Outcomes (ETO™) software goes beyond case management, enabling public, private, and nonprofit organizations to collaborate, save time, and improve quality and effectiveness. ETO software incorporates Microsoft technology to deliver a comprehensive platform for human service connectivity. The web-based ETO application can be fully configured and deployed without a line of code. Its web services–based API (application programming interface) enables partners to deliver enhancements through ETO Marketplace. Through ETO Marketplace, Social Solutions has become one of the first providers in the industry to offer a cloud-based solution, which is the hosting and management of scalable web applications and services on the Internet through off-site data centers. In the first half of 2011, Social Solutions expects multiple partner applications to be released that take advantage of the Windows Azure platform—putting the power of cloud computing in the hands of those seeking to change lives.
Today, multiple divisions in the county government that provide programs—such as Aging Services, Boulder County Healthy Kids (CHP+), Head Start, the Housing Counseling Program, and Community Justice Services—are no longer siloed but rather share participant data. As a result, participants enjoy faster and more accurate referrals, as well as coordinated services; service providers enjoy reduced overhead; and Boulder County enjoys a 360-degree view of the populations it serves.
Supported by ETO software, Boulder County’s “Every Door is the Right Door” model ensures that agencies can make timely and appropriate referrals to individuals and families in need. Boulder County agencies use ETO software to make a single needs-assessment at the first point of service, which can serve to inform providers across the collaborative, removing the need to input demographic and other data a second time.
Building Caring and Livable Communities for All was launched in Boulder County in January 2009, and it was fully implemented across multiple agencies in January 2010. This initiative includes 22 programs, plus integration with an outside database. According to Bohannan, poverty in Boulder County is relatively invisible to the general public—residents don’t see it on a day-to-day basis, so it can be difficult to get the general public engaged and concerned about it. Now, with the Building Caring and Livable Communities for All initiative and ETO software, the commissioners can offer the community specific reports about which populations are receiving services, how they obtain services, and what the funding levels and outcomes from those services are. This depth of information is not only valuable from a transparency perspective but is also useful from a planning perspective. “The Efforts to Outcomes platform has helped us to more efficiently allocate resources, and to more holistically address participant and family needs,” Bohannan explains.
Boulder County reports that one feature of ETO software—unduplicated counts of participants and families—is essential to accurate reporting. The ability to measure overlap of services ensures efficiency within the county and protects against abuses of the system. Most importantly, Boulder County uses the Microsoft-based software to measure the impact of its various agencies and track participant progress toward self-sufficiency on a benchmarked spectrum (see Figure 1).
|Figure 1. Boulder County uses Efforts to Outcomes software from Microsoft |
Gold Certified Partner Social Solutions to measure the impact of its various
agencies and track participant progress toward self-sufficiency.
Perhaps the most impressive improvement in efficiency comes from the overlap detection report included with the ETO solution. Program planners use this report to gain visibility into how families are navigating (or not navigating) the system, as well as to calculate cost savings by identifying unnecessary transportation assistance and potentially fraudulent uses of community services.
In terms of improved coordination, Boulder County has made great strides in the areas of funding and reporting. Two of the five funders (Boulder County and the City of Longmont) have implemented the same application for funding, with the other three expected to join when their current funding cycles expire. Similarly, it is expected that 2010 data will be reported on a common reporting form in 2011, where previously the variety of funders had required service providers to mix and match different aspects of data in different formats to meet their disparate requirements. This streamlining of the funding process will not only save time at the staff level but will also allow all participating funders and policymakers to assess impacts across the community by the same high standard.
||The wait time for one of our programs for families in crisis went from three weeks to the same day. We couldn’t have made improvements like this without ETO.
Director of Community Services, Boulder County
In addition to the agencies that are already participating, nonprofit organizations and other municipal organizations (such as senior citizen centers) have expressed interest and eagerness to join the network. With additional funding from the commissioners to support the initiative, some of these organizations will receive the technical assistance support they need to become a part of this ground-breaking collaborative—and help to expand its impact. “The network is just beginning to form,” Bohannan explains. “This foundation for performance management and client-related outcomes is just going to grow and grow and grow.”
The remarkable efforts in Boulder County have been promoted through quarterly community stakeholder meetings of the many human service coalitions in the county. Due to funding constraints, communications strategies have been more conservative, but at least two more organizations have placed requests for the technical assistance funding made available, and many more have expressed excitement at the prospect of becoming a part of this innovative strategy.
This case management and performance management system has empowered Boulder County to make measurable improvements, but it is important to note that ETO software is only a tool. While technology has played a remarkably innovative role, without the level of trust and commitment to collaboration developed by the various agencies and nonprofits in Boulder County, none of this would be possible.Benefits
Through use of Efforts to Outcomes software, Boulder County has increased its program efficiency and ability to coordinate across agencies, while reducing administrative overhead and hastening response time for participants.
Increased Program Efficiency
The systemic changes implemented in Boulder County have led to a number of stunning improvements in efficiency. For instance, wait times for some county services have been dramatically reduced. “The wait time for one of our programs for families in crisis went from three weeks to the same day,” says Bohannan. “We couldn’t have made improvements like this without ETO.”
Reduced Administrative Overhead
Boulder County no longer uses a manual process for quarterly reporting. Instead, the ETO application automatically processes data taken from the initial assessment and from updates made during subsequent points of service, and uses this information to generate and populate the required reports. This saves time and frees up human resources, allowing staff to focus on serving participants, rather than filling out paperwork.
Enhanced Coordination Across Agencies
Boulder County’s vision, with the ETO system as its core, is to weave all the various agencies together into an overall, optimized network of services. “The ETO enterprise approach helps to break down all the traditional barriers and disconnects in the nonprofit and human services arena, without getting caught in bureaucracy and delays,” says Eric Severson, Chief Technology Officer for Flatirons Solutions, a consulting and program management organization based in Boulder. “The ETO system supports and encourages this vision by allowing for standardized demographics, assessment criteria, and reporting. Agencies can also easily refer families and individuals to other participating organizations—no matter which agency’s doorway they walked through in search of services.”
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