Gaining trust from residents and communities is crucial to building support for new MTW activities. MTW agencies that establish positive and trusting relationships with residents and the broader community are in a strong position for launching their MTW activities. MTW can be a positive turning point for those that have struggled in the past with misunderstandings, miscommunications, or events that have created a tension between the residents and the agency.
Engage Early and Often
Taking the time for community engagement efforts can appear to slow down vital reform efforts and create inefficiencies. In communities that have not yet established trust, opportunities for engagement may historically have been tense or unpleasant. It is natural for agencies to want to avoid these situations. Open dialogue around the possibilities that MTW offers can change that dynamic.
Begin engagement efforts with an honest assessment of where your agency is currently.
- What is the community’s perception and level of trust?
- Does the agency have a good reputation within the community?
- Have any past events eroded that reputation?
- Have those issues been successfully resolved?
- How does the community feel now?
Help stakeholders understand the big picture, including what goals the MTW activities are expected to achieve and possible negative consequences. Share the strategies under consideration for addressing any possible issues. Solicit input to get fresh ideas and build buy-in from the community.
- Be open about the fact that many MTW activities may change over time.
- Reassure the community that if an activity is not working as planned, it can be adjusted.
- Share your plans to evaluate MTW activities and explain the process for making adjustments for continuous improvement.
Community partners and entities that have direct contact with current or potential residents can be an MTW agency’s best advocates and can influence how residents view MTW efforts. They can also help the MTW agency understand resident perspectives. Consider approaching these community partners before talking with residents. Ensure that RAB or tenant association members and other advocates understand and support the MTW vision. Then empower them to help communicate that vision to others, and to bring feedback to help improve implementation.
In addition to the RAB or tenant association, consider the following potential advocates:
- Neighborhood association leaders
- Vocal residents
- Local elected officials
- Leaders in the business community
- Leaders of nonprofit service agencies
- Legal advocates
- Faith-based organizations and leaders
- Local human services staff
- Homeless service providers
- Disability support providers
When engaging advocates, remember that MTW program participants are their beneficiaries too. Focus on the opportunities that MTW presents for participating families. Consider these high-level questions as starting points for engagement:
- In terms of the families being served, what is working (or not working) from your perspective?
- How do our respective programs align to serve these families?
- Where might our respective programs be at odds with one another? How can we increase alignment in those areas?
Although MTW activities offer great hope for improving efficiency and effectiveness in an MTW agency’s programs, they are not a panacea and do not always work out as anticipated. Start with an honest assessment of the range of possible outcomes. Then make clear that the MTW agency will carefully measure outcomes and adjust program implementation over time if the results are not turning out as intended.
Avoid these common pitfalls:
- Focusing only on the benefits, without realistically anticipating potential challenges
- Failing to continually assess outcomes over time
- Failing to pivot to new activities and implementation approaches if the original plan is not working
Encourage Open Communication and Listen Carefully
Make sure that stakeholders have access to information on a regular basis and in a format that reaches them. This helps prevent any sense that the people who are most affected are being excluded from the process. If an MTW activity is adjusted or even discontinued, share the reasons so residents and the community see how the MTW agency is proactively addressing concerns.
Open communication goes both ways. Giving residents ample opportunity to communicate about needs and ideas, and actively listening to what they have to say, sets the tone for positive communication and lets people know that the MTW agency is considering their interests on an ongoing basis.
When introducing new MTW activities, incorporate them into the MTW Supplement and follow the required public comment process. But go into the formal process knowing that this may not provide sufficient opportunity for the community to fully voice its concerns. Don’t rush this process.
Consider what additional formats might be needed to allow all stakeholders the opportunity to get information and provide input (e.g., RAB or tenant association, public meeting, fact sheet, newsletter, etc.). It’s ok—and necessary—to present the same information in multiple formats and on a regular basis.