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The Mystery of SB93

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The bottom line

Policy-makers may need to invest in Plan D, and prepare themselves for difficult decisions to safeguard their credibility and future projects

September 19, 2019


So we now recognize just how challenging it can be to build truly collaborative statewide initiatives through legislation like SB93. There is little relevant scholarship and few experienced leaders to guide what turns out to be an extremely complex undertaking. There are barriers to publishing project summaries that document real progress at the level needed by funders to feel confident in the ROI. Collaborative networks like the one established through SB93 must be committed and resilient to self-correct.  The stakes are high for everyone involved.

And so, in the real world, we might need to turn to a Plan D before making any final decision to continue funding based on a Plan A or B or C, and even after taking the other factors listed above into account. In the ideal world, when summaries are readily available that allow us to logically determine the ROI of an investment, a decision reached through Plan A or B or C to discontinue a program can potentially be justified, however painful.  But in the real world, a decision to cut, curtail, or delay funding will always be politically charged.  And when the information needed to support a decision is ambiguous or unavailable, the rationale behind the decision to cut funding will be inevitably and endlessly second-guessed. So we often need to give projects every reasonable chance to succeed. A Plan D that gives additional opportunities for parties to re-assess their plan and re-evaluate progress can help to pre-empt second guessing.

The various challenges listed above may also allow Plan D to be positively re-framed. After all, the development of new programs is ambitious.  This is especially so for those aspiring to broader system change. Stakeholders will be sympathetic to a story that documents repeated attempts at program improvement. As long as the actors involved made reasonable and well-intentioned efforts to move ahead, such stories communicate dogged determination, not ineffectiveness. Likewise, a Plan D that brings in independent input (even as part of a corrective action plan) reinforces the determination to get it right.

A Plan D may become even more important when a decision to pull funding will eliminate whatever services have already begun to be implemented as a result of the project. But even these decisions are themselves complex.  Consider the Navigator services created through SB93.  On the one hand, these close a gap increasingly recognized as important in improving access to critical health care services, especially for the traditionally under-served groups too often left behind.  On the other hand, absent clear progress for the ICA and DNEA, there is no mechanism for utilizing the information gathered by Navigators to begin to close these gaps. And so there is no scenario in which the need for such services might eventually be reduced if not eliminated. In this case, funders must therefore plan on including funding for Navigators in all future budgets if this service is to continue.

But without Plan D positively re framed as a redoubled effort to get it right, policy-makers are left with little choice but to reconsider funding. Maybe the funding can be quietly redirected towards new but related efforts elsewhere, assuaging ASD advocates. Understandably, a policy-maker might be worried that a pet project's lack of progress casts a pall over their own reputation.  But a policy-maker who does not back down from a controversial conclusion that funding must be pulled is also more likely to be seen as fair, decisive, and accountable.

The need to reach a decision becomes more urgent whenever new initiatives under consideration - or maybe even already funded - depend on the success of the original proposal.  Such is the case with HB292, the legislation to fund ASD coaches in public schools. HB292 is absolutely essential to assuring the long-term impact of initial training developed via the DNEA. Why? Because research has consistently demonstrated that educators usually need individualized coaching in new, more advanced educational practices to develop lasting competence and to adapt practices to individual circumstances.  In fact, HB292 and  SB93 were in fact conceived as two side of the same coin, and were only split into two bills to ease passage. But without a careful selection of pivotal training topics, implemented in 2 to 3 year cycles to build in-house expertise (as originally proposed for the DNEA), there would be no coaches or curricula for the effective implementation of HB292. Thus a failure to make the best decision about SB93 will lead to good money being thrown after bad.


Please don't rock our boat

When progress stalls, inter-agency relationships may not be strong or deep enough to withstand major adjustments.  Instead, initiatives like those envisioned in SB93 quietly sink into the sea.

The logo is adapted from Joaquim Alves Gaspar's drawing of Pedro Reinel's compass rose.