I took a trip to Washington DC last week and had the opportunity to meet with Kathryn Baer, the author of the excellent Poverty and Policy blog. Kathryn’s focus is on, as the title of her site suggests, policy, whereas my focus is on direct service providers. The commonality between me, Kathryn, and anyone reading this site is poverty.
Our conversation centered on the relationship between social policies and service provision. On face the connection might not seem obvious. Direct service providers deal with people in need in their communities every day, whereas policy, particular federal policy, is crafted at a high level and often far away from the people it is designed to support.
But direct service providers and policy makers are all part of our collective social welfare model, part policy and part implementation. And there is no denying that policy has a profound effect on poverty, in both its exasperation and eradication.
The consequences of budgetary cuts on income supplement programs like Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families directly influence the social outcomes of the poor, consequently impacting demand for auxiliary services provided by non-profit organizations.
While I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the social sector who does not believe social welfare policy is important, this presumption of importance seldom makes its way into service providers daily planning or service delivery.
Yet social welfare policy creates the environment – fiscal, social, and legal – in which anti-poverty interventions operate. The power of governments to erect and erode programs in aid of the poor is significant, and should be discussed as an agenda item in every non-profit organization’s board meetings.
Poverty levels today are in part a consequence of past policies. In order to effectively plan for the future, one must understand the policies we face today and what might get adopted in the future. Not only can changes in the political winds have funding implications, as government interventions change, so too do the needs of those we serve.
The social sector is abuzz with talks of the promise of ‘metrics’ and ‘measurement’. And while I do think the social sector would benefit from taking a more information driven approach, I also believe that information comes in multiple forms. My firm works with organizations around measurable outcomes metrics. Our medium is numbers, but there is a lot more to good planning and effective service provisions than counting.
Indeed, while every organization should make use of outcome metrics in decision making, so too should organizations consider changes in government policy in program planning. Kathryn Baer, and those with an eye on the intersection of poverty and policy are invaluable resources in not only understanding policy, but understanding how policy is relevant to helping hurting people on the ground.
Photo credit: The Tire Zoo