This is my first time being involved in remodeling a house and I've been taken by how similar my experience with remodeling a house is to the remodeling I'm seeing (and have experienced) in state prevention systems. Here's my top seven learnings from this experience as it applies to prevention. What's your experience?
1. Its way harder than it looks. HGTV makes it all seem way more simple than it is. Changing out the inside parts of a toilet seems like an easy task -- not so much! Moving that electrical outlet seems like a simple tasks but the wiring from before isn't set up that way. There are lots of decisions to be made and not all of them turn out as anticipated.
Prevention systems change his like this too. Systems changes are complex and complicated, they often involve reorganizations and remixing in ways that feel stressful to those on the receiving end. Perhaps your system is moving from program services to a public health model? Maybe you've been using risk and protective data and now you're looking at epidemiological data? What do we do with the old ways and how do we integrate the new ones? Its way harder than it looks on the surface and everyone won't be happy with the final decision. Be kind and patient with the change makers, they have a really tough job.
2. There's always unseen challenges and opportunities. Doing this renovation has reminded me there are always things that happen we can't anticipate. You prepare to haul out an old couch only to find a rat snake in the cushion! Or you spray for spiders only to find a really BIG one slinking around on your newly painted wall! Okay, systems aren't exactly like that but there are unseen helps and hindrances to creating systems change (just ask the healthcare folks who rolled out the Affordable Care Act!) The main thing is to be as prepared as you can, open to the ideas and insights of others and then go with the flow. See the silver lining in each challenge and then laugh often -- it helps keep your sanity and reduces stress :)
3. One change often creates the need for another. This kind of goes along with the previous one. See, this little house we're working on sat empty and the foundation settled so we had to go in a jack up parts of the floor. What I learned is that this isn't as simple as it sounds because sometimes you lift one area only to find that little tiny 1/4 inch nudge affected a whole other area. Systems changes are like this too.
A shift from coalition work to program delivery (or the reverse) makes a huge impact on training, relationships, and public expectations. A funding cut can put the network into a position where they simply can't deliver all that is needed or expected. What seems like a simple systems shift to address a problem often turns into a mess or wicked mess. We don't remodel people, just the house/system we/they work in. Remodeling ourselves is whole other thing!
4. Relationships are everything. It's so easy to get caught up in the details and tasks of remodeling when what's really important -- is the people. My sister and brother-in-law along with kids, grandkids and friends have given generously of their time and talents and skills to help this renovation happen. Calling and texting each other with updates and questions and ideas has been helpful in keeping information flowing. Systems change is like this too.
There are a lot of people involved in change initiatives and systems change and it is so easy for those intricately involved in the many conversations and actions to forget to communicate clearly and often with everyone else involved, especially those at the periphery. Feelings get hurt, affordances overlooked and resistance can rule the day. It does us well when we can be authentic and open and honest with each other as the changes are being worked on. Social media can help with that if we'll give out and listen to little bursts of information (or full scale posts) to help keep everyone involved well informed.
5. How do we hold onto the old while creating the new. Some people are really good at this. You may be one or know someone who is really great at holding the existing condition in their head while working on the details of the new. When it comes to renovating a house it can sometimes be a challenge to see something beautiful while walking through a house that is anything but beautiful at the moment. It can be hard to see a big beautiful sliding glass door leading out onto a patio or deck while staring at a blank wall. Systems change is like that too.
It is can be tough to hold onto what IS while working on envisioning and creating something new or different. We won't always get to do what we'd like to do to strengthen and elevate prevention in the ways we have come to believe are necessary or needed but if we remain open to ideas as we go along we'll discover ideas that work, many far better than those original ones we had.
6. It always takes longer than we think it will. We had hoped to be finished with the little house by Sept 17th when my sister is having surgery on her foot that's going to knock her out of the action for 12 weeks. Finishing it all up may not happen and you know what, its okay. We'll keep going and see it through along with the help and support of family and friends.
You see, the bottom line is there is no such thing as -- done -- when it comes to prevention either, you know what I mean? There is no final sign here and prevention is complete. There is always more to be done in part because the conditions and people are always changing. What was a problem in the community yesterday may not be the same problem today. And just when we think we've got a handle on it, the problem circles around again. Such is life.
In our way of seeing we need several things going on at the same time like while the wall compound dries we work on the cabinets or while others work on the roof we work on tiling the bathroom floor. However, we don't tile the floor until its been re-leveled. I suppose it depends on the how you see it but at the end of the day it takes careful thinking on the sequence of things so we don't get the cart before the horse.
Same is true in any change initiative and this may be the single most challenging thing -- balancing the design and development amidst the rules and regulations and legislative sessions and funding streams. We need to do prevention, intervention and treatment while supporting recovery. Its all important and needs to happen at the same time and yet some things do have a specific time and place.
Proactive prevention is creative acts of design and development. It involves creating the conditions (outside) and nurturing the attributes (inside) that have heart and meaning for us. Too often and too easily we can get bogged down or distracted by the problems or the data (negative) rather than solidly focused on the solutions (positive). I'm finding tho that as long as we're working in the agreed upon direction, the outcome (a finished renovation) will happen.
That's my thoughts today. What about you and your experience?