Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A note on DDS work groups.

Today during the CDCAN town hall teleconference, DDS Director Terri Delgadillo mentioned the working groups she has convened to look at structural reform. Such working groups are typically composed primarily of association representatives and an aberration or two.  Recognizing that these work groups are a step toward transparency and community input, a few questions ought to be asked.

How representative are the work groups?
How transparent are the meetings?
Do the work groups advance a reform agenda?

The first question is easy.  The work groups are not representative in any important way.  They do tend to be diverse ideologically in the sense that whatever CRA is calling itself now always defends congregate facilities and whatever Protection and Advocacy is calling itself now, had its staff been trained in the practical arts rather than law, would likely chloroform and kidnap every client that entered such a place.  But there's a problem of selection bias in calling the work groups ideologically diverse.  As long as CRA' and PAI' are at the table, congregation v integration seems like a more important issue than it does almost anywhere else.  So, what passes for diversity tends be a divergence of limited viewpoints rather a collective voice.  The work groups seem not to be meaningfully integrated into or representative of the greater community of people interested in the development or reform of our system.  

I suspect if you could inebriate the architects of the work groups (and you generally can,) they would tell you that the real selection is based on getting buy-in rather than input.  The first composition probably begins with the list of groups with the means to scuttle or inconvenience legislation, continues with the natural opponents of the first group, and ends with Connie L. This is politically smart, and as long as the goal is pacific politics, the process makes sense.  But if the time for reform has come at last, workgroups made up of well known "stakeholders" with rigid "positions" will get in the way.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. How would you select people/organizations when DDS has to work with stakeholders?

Doug said...

Anonymous, being aware of conflicts and biases built into the working groups should be valuable whether an alternative exists or not. I think DDS can't avoid stakeholders, with or without workgroups, so you do have to wonder if working groups are helping anything. The traveling public forums seemed nearly as unproductive and were much more democratic.

That's sort of the point- it's hard to see benefit from the working groups other than massaging certain loud voices with privileged access. That's ok, I guess, unless those workgroups actually restrain reform which I would almost bet they do.

Just on an emotional level, a lot of people including me tend to worry about the people chosen to be at the table and I doubt that would change very much with different people at the table. The problems identified and solutions proposed would surely change, though.

Anonymous said...

Given your last paragraph, how would you select people/organizations when DDS has to work with stakeholders? I feel like you're avoiding an answer.... And how would you propose changing the process, knowing DDS has to work with stakeholders, to ensure it benefits those without "...certain loud voices with privileged access...?

Anonymous said...

Back to my question--how would you select people/organizations when DDS has to work with stakeholders in order to achieve reform?

Doug said...

Anonymous, apologies for this taking so long. Apparently I now need to ok comments and since I didn't realize that, I didn't check for comments to ok.

To your questions: I wasn't avoiding the question, but this post was meant to point out the dangers of selecting stakeholders at all, not to solve that problem.

So, the problem as I see it is this: The stakeholder representatives aren't particularly representative, and many of those with a strong Sacramento presence have that presence because they have a particular agenda. This isn't evil, but it would be dishonest to pretend it isn't counterproductive. As I said before, the composition of whom DDS invites probably can't be improved, the issue is that DDS ends up choosing which in a diverse group means disenfranchising as well.

But I do think this: In the past, DDS has had RSVP'd open meetings on issues of general concern. At least by doing that, the agenda of the respondents isn't selected by DDS, there is greater opportunity for new thinking to come in with the stakeholders, the likelihood is reduced (currently a certainty) that large swaths of the stakeholder community will be more suspicious of the invitees than they are of DDS and the better funded unrepresentative groups will have less opportunity to tell their neighbors that none come unto the father except by me. Lastly, I suspect directly invited stakeholders probably have a stronger sense of entitlement to decide for DDS than those who might put themselves forward.

In between the big open fora that DDS conducted in Oakland, LA and Sac'to and the invited steering committee that was just put together. It would be perfectly reasonable, timely and efficient to create the steering committee by inviting people to join it, limiting the size and asking people to RSVP. The groups with lobbyists would certainly have resources to RSVP on time and join but less predictable advocates would be better represented and nobody would go to the meeting with special sanction.