ReWORKing Welfare Technical Assistance for States and Localities. 12. Building Support for the Program


Building support among internal staff, partner agencies, political players, advocates, employers, and the broader community is important to the successful implementation of a work first program. Staff, whether administrative or line, are likely to do a better job if they share the program's vision and goals (see also section 18, on promoting an employment focus). When partner agencies support the program, they are likely to make a greater effort to coordinate services and promote the program's goals (see also section 20, on interagency linkages). Giving local employers a sense of ownership of the program can go a long way toward enhancing job development and placement, especially in small towns and rural areas. Community opposition can affect the program if advocacy groups mount legal and other challenges. In addition, community and political opposition can lead staff to question the future of the program and make them less likely to work to implement it.

Work first programs may cause concern among certain groups. The education and training communities may be concerned if they believe that the only program activity is job search. Advocates and welfare rights groups may fear that the program is going to force participants to take low-wage jobs without benefits or advancement opportunities, or may believe that the program's primary focus is on sanctioning those who do not or cannot comply with the new requirements. Child care providers and child-welfare advocates may be concerned about the availability and quality of child care, especially if the program adopts a broad participation mandate.

In general, it is best to try to involve all parties from the earliest planning stages and to be responsive to their concerns. However, you may not have control over the timing or process of decision making; for example, program specifics may have been handed down by the governor or legislature. In addition, a long planning process may not be desirable if you want to get the program in place quickly. Within the confines of your situation, however, it pays to do what you can to involve in the process those whom you want to be your partners in the work first effort. It is likely that there will be at least some level of policy or implementation over which you have control and in which your partners can play a role. Even if you have no control in shaping the new policies, it is helpful to explain them to all concerned parties and to answer any questions they may have.

Strategies for Building Support

  • Give players a stake in the program. Communicate to staff, partner organizations, and others that they are important to the process and explain how what they do fits in with the work first mission. Giving local offices, partner agencies, and staff flexibility in operating the program can increase support for change and help meet local needs.
  • Identify partners. Identify those individuals and organizations who support the work first proposal, and organize them to help you market the program to others.
  • Use a bottom-up approach. When asking for input, try to create an atmosphere in which ideas are generated from the bottom up. Staff members are more likely to support and become involved in something they helped to create.
  • Make use of others' expertise. The groups you need to work with are knowledgeable in their fields. Take the concerns of service providers and advocates seriously and look for ways to address them. At the same time, be honest about what you have control over and what you do not.
  • Hold focus groups. Focus groups can be a great way both to gather information and to build support. Aim to include people in a variety of roles (program staff, other human services providers, business owners, community leaders, and program participants) so that members learn from one another as well as informing you.
  • Examine what has worked in the past and what has not. Look at the current system and past programs to see which elements worked well and which ones did not. Find ways to incorporate the most successful practices into the new program and focus on how it can improve upon past ones.
  • Let people know the result of your work. Through a written document or by some other means, let people know what input you received from various sources and how it has shaped your program. It is important that people involved in the process feel that their contributions mattered.
  • Follow up. Maintain the relationships you have built during the planning stage, and continue team building internally and with key partners. Keep all players up to date on program activities, and invite suggestions for improving the program in the future. Some ways to do this are to have regular meetings, create a newsletter, form advisory groups, and hold an open house so that key players and members of the community can see the program in practice.