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Change Can Be Hard, Irrelevance is Easy

By Colonel (Ret., U.S. Army) Jim McDonough, Managing Director, IVMF and

Mike Schindler, Program Manager, Community Services, IVMF

General (U.S. Army, Retired) Eric Shinseki in December 2001, said, “If you dislike like change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.” While General Shinseki was referring to those in the Army who were not necessarily enamored with his plan to transform the Army at the time, his point was simple: for those who chose not to change, the future is bleak; for those who embrace change, the future can be brighter.

Here in the IVMF, we’re in the ‘change business,’ and more and more of our work is centered around change in two very big and important dimensions: (1) changing the nature of transitioning from military service, namely through full employment in the private sector prior to transitioning itself and, (2), changing the way services are delivered and accessed by military-connected individuals in their communities, namely through coordination between service providers and individuals seeking assistance.

While change of this scope and magnitude can be hard to imagine by some, let alone achieve, the idea that the IVMF is in the ‘change business’ may be news to some and in order to explain ourselves to newcomers, as well as to our current supporters, the need to clearly lay out how our efforts to serve American communities are different than others is becoming more important as the space is getting a bit more crowded.

Most individuals are familiar enough with military aviation through the movie Top Gun to know that landing a plane on land is quite different than landing a plane on a bobbing aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Using this metaphor to describe the IVMF’s community-based work, we’re the group of military aviators flying the planes over the Pacific at night, in reduced visibility, preparing to land on a platform the size of a plastic knife floating in a bathtub – pretty advanced flying. Simultaneously, another group of commercial aviators, individual airline pilots, are similarly preparing to land their planes in broad daylight at Chicago’s Midway Airport, on a fixed runway with an established pattern, rules, navigation aids, and people to help. The two tasks – landing a plane on a pitching aircraft carrier at night and landing a plane at Midway in broad daylight appear to be the same task, landing a plane. But what appears to some to be the same task really involves different levels of complexity and effort that make the task of actually landing a plane quite different.

So too is the case involving the IVMF’s work in communities.

On the continuum of complexity, we’re generally spotted to the right side of the continuum – the “far from easy, but definitely worth it” side. Our team works complex models of coordinated care that see human service providers paired, in a coordinated fashion, with their community ‘concierge’ (we help identify the community concierge), to better match the needs of the community’s military-connected population with the best resource, service and/or care available within that community. That’s the navigation and coordination pieces associated with landing a plane on an aircraft carrier. It takes navigation to distinguish and route/refer clients to the right resource amongst a sea of goodwill– aka: an aircraft carrier from a supertanker at sea. It takes coordination to do this successfully, landing after landing. To go from landing planes on a fixed runway to landing planes on an unfixed aircraft carrier involves change, a change in skill sets, measurement, proficiency, technology, confidence, trust.

We’re also working at all points in between, meeting communities where they are, to elevate the general practice associated with serving America’s military-connected members and their families to new levels of excellence and coordination at the community level; as service, care and resource delivery are never static and instead operate in very dynamic and fluid environments of funding, staffing and collaboration in general.

Like all good aviators, the IVMF is advancing change in tradecraft in several community settings, establishing the skill sets, the technology, the measurement, the proficiency, confidence and trust that allows communities and their affiliated providers to practice their skills at advanced levels. This is not to diminish the proficiency of others, nor undervalue their contribution. On the contrary, it’s to help take them to new levels of proficiency, tradecraft and performance over time. Our collective goal is to change the nature of human service delivery to a more evolved, coordinated basis that results in simplified navigation for those seeking services – along with improved coordination amongst providers delivering the services themselves.

In short, we seek to help others change their current ability to only land airplanes on land to a capability and capacity that allows them to land them at sea as well. Like pilots proficient at basic and advanced aviation, our communities operate at varying levels of tradecraft, some advanced, some basic, the point being that all of it matters, as do the contributions of those who support them. There is room for all along this continuum of support to advance the practice of caring for America’s service members, veterans and their families.

Importantly, the IVMF’s core strengths supporting its community-based work lie in its ability to:

  • Conduct original research and embedded measurement and evaluation to draw-out insights from the best, evidence-based approaches and then infuse that learning directly into its models of coordinated care
  • Measure and evaluate its ongoing efforts in multiple dimensions associated with a theory of change, namely,
    • At community network level, ensuring military connected ‘consumers’ get to the right point of service, resource and care fastest (efficiency) and with the least amount of ‘misses.’ (efficacy)
    • At provider level, once connected by each network, ensuring providers deliver upon the outcome being sought (i.e. needed housing, received housing)
  • Treat its efforts as a true practice, a Community of Practice, involving all partnerships and relationships as an extension of the university, as Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Sevyrud, recently charged the IVMF with doing. The goal being continuous improvement, learning, and the transfer of knowledge between relationships to improve upon the lives of those who serve
  • Write and publish periodically to inform stakeholders, followers, partners and the sector in general
  • Maintain a national footprint – a ‘ground game,’ if you will – connected within DOD installations and communities at-scale that keeps the organization grounded in the principle of serving those who serve
  • Scale its initiatives to attack change aggressively and bring about the transformation being sought across multiple geographies
  • Draw upon some of the best partnerships aligned with the IVMF mission; from funders to key, strategic business partners (i.e. Accenture, Unite US) oriented on the same goals to achieve its vision
  • Employ a nationally-arrayed cadre of smart, dedicated, passionate teammates focused on doing things well for those who serve and support them

These strengths are as differentiating from others as they are important to understand when comparing the IVMF to others operating in the space. Their importance is so not to confuse, but to inform, and allow others to operate freely along the continuum of support being offered to communities today. As is the case with providers, there is no one organization anywhere capable of serving every need. That adage holds true for those of us supporting community-based work in the veterans’ sector: no organization is capable of supporting it all either.

For the IVMF, we work to our strengths and look to others to do the same. Back to the metaphor introduced at the top, ours are akin to creating more proficient aviators capable of landing planes on land, or at sea. Most importantly, we value the role that others have played in creating proficiency, as well as the positive change responsible for the circumstances that now support increased proficiency and the rate of positive change within today’s efforts supporting improvements in community-based approaches to care, services and resources for America’s military connected members and their families.

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