MTW Expansion Training

Generating Ideas for your MTW Activities

Becoming an MTW agency is all about looking for opportunities to try new things, learn from past efforts, and improve upon current work. Experienced agencies focus on the importance of keeping eyes, ears, and mind open and recommend looking to a wide range of sources for ideas and inspiration.



Staff can be the front-line resources for generating ideas if given encouragement and the freedom to brainstorm innovative ideas. They think about agency practices, policies, and outcomes all day every day, and they hear from residents about their concerns and issues working with the program. Staff can also provide a “reality check” on ideas that seem good on the surface but ultimately may not be workable. And when something isn’t working as it should, staff can be your first line of thinking about how to improve an activity after implementation. Involving staff when generating MTW activity ideas will also help immensely with buy-in and support during difficult periods of organizational change.

Be sure to follow up with staff about the ideas they provide. Did the MTW agency decide to implement an activity based on a suggestion from staff? Let the staff know. Did staff provide a good idea that was ultimately not able to be implemented or was implemented and then stopped? Make sure the staff understand why.

See Involving Staff for more on engaging staff in MTW activities and decision-making.


Residents live with the consequences and realities of the agency’s policies. They have the most invested, the most to gain or lose, and can help decision makers consider on-the-ground realities that might not otherwise be fully considered. Ask them about their pain points and how the agency can help. The objective of MTW efforts is not to solve all residents’ complaints, but gathering resident input is the first step in ensuring that the activities the MTW agency chooses to implement with its MTW flexibility will benefit residents and the community. See Involving Residents and Communities for thoughts on how to do this.

Local Government

Your agency functions within a larger context. Think: Are the MTW agency’s goals and proposed MTW activities in alignment with other programs in your community? Are they politically attainable/in line with what the local government might support?

Working with local government can leverage resources to have larger impact. But it is important to understand how to fit most effectively with local government policies, initiatives, and resources to generate support and synergies. Local government officials can advocate for your MTW agency’s work and serve as allies to help ensure your activities and objectives are communicated clearly. And instead of stumbling upon challenges that could create opposition midstream, they can help you identify potential ‘derailers’ early and provide input to help craft workable solutions.

MTW Agencies often need public support to make meaningful change. Learning what local government officials value and will advocate for can help generate momentum.

Other Agencies, Industry Groups

Talk with other current MTW agencies to gather best practices and lessons learned. Look for agencies with similar make-up or challenges to yours and ask for input around implementation challenges. What did they wish they knew before getting started? Do they have software or vendors that they have adapted to work for MTW activities? Depending on what MTW cohort your agency is in, modest funding may be available to MTW Agencies to engage software vendors.

Community Partners

Community partners offer a wealth of resources. Think about possible partners broadly, including:

  • Service agencies within your jurisdiction (human services, workforce investment, homelessness, etc.)
  • Nonprofits
  • Local universities
  • Software vendors
  • Local businesses

Communicating, breaking down silos, sharing information, developing complementary programs, providing referrals…no MTW agency can provide every service. Partnering provides the well-rounded support that can help move families to self-sufficiency or provide the supportive environment they need in long-term subsidized housing situations.

David A. Northern, Sr. (Housing Authority of Champaign County) and Karen Kreutzberg (Boulder Housing Partners) discuss the value of bringing partners to the table and capitalizing on their ability to provide services to their residents.


Data is key to understanding needs, and to assessing effectiveness. Basing MTW activity choices on data is one of the best ways for MTW agencies to reach optimal successes. Starting from data can lead to directly measuring outcomes rather than assessing progress based on subjective or anecdotal outcomes

BUT: Don’t let data availability drive decisions away from your agency’s ultimate goals. Take a close look at what changes will be needed and work with your software vendor to determine how best to collect the data you need to assess progress toward your agency’s goals.

Agency staff are the most frequent sources of data and analysis. But partners such as universities and local governments can also provide analytic support. Residents can add important insights and help make sense of data by helping identify underlying reasons for unexpected patterns.

Even with a thoughtful plan and careful impact analysis, waivers occasionally do not work as intended. On-going data analysis can help flag trouble areas and provide information about how an MTW activity may need to be tweaked – rather than thrown out in its entirety.