One of the key elements in any strategic planning process is to engage stakeholders, especially those who may be service recipients at a human services organization. As we engage the community, we do not want to 1) set expectations that will not be met and disappoint those who have provided input,  or 2) extract information that will be used by individuals with a different type of power, and sometimes in harmful ways. Over time, I have come to realize that engaging service recipients is about tactics or activities as opposed to developing organizational strategies.

Here’s a real example. I can’t tell you the number of meetings I’ve been in where we have asked about clients’ needs. Inevitably one of the needs is transportation. It is captured on a list of other service needs and the organization uses it to define its portfolio of services. Many times, organizations simply say this problem is not ours to handle and/or this is too big for us to handle. Regardless of the reason, when we ask questions about needs there is an expectation that we are going to try and address those needs. If the organization ends up “not” addressing those needs, it disappoints service recipients who need transportation.  

Frontline staff can tell us what a client’s needs are. We have to engage them first to determine if that is a service the organization is willing to provide. If for example, an organization decides to assist with transportation, then the question becomes, what is our best approach with the people we serve? Then we go directly to service recipients. As an organization we can share with them our current boundaries or limits. For example, we could buy a van, but that would eliminate our ability to fund mass transit passes and Uber rides. Which makes more sense to you? Meaningful engagement that results in a solution that is generated from service recipients and subsequently implemented is a win for everyone.