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Build Consensus Across Service Settings

Integration takes time and requires commitments. At a minimum, consensus is needed across three levels:

  • administration
  • mid-level management
  • field or direct service

It is a fluid, rather than a static process. The right attitude is the most essential ingredient for successful integration. Stakeholders should expect the process to be both challenging and frustrating, but also rewarding. Commitment to open communication is paramount. Dedication among administrators needs to come early, so they can serve as a model for the vision of working towards an integrated system.

In order to succeed, the benefits of integration must be clearly articulated for each stakeholder. Stakeholders must be allowed to define their needs and see some progress towards shared goals to stay engaged over time. Clearly defining goals and objectives avoids confusion. Build respect by treating stakeholders as equal partners working for the general good of the community.

Time strategic communications so that they occur when change is near to maximize momentum for change. Announcing integration efforts too early can increase frustrations if service systems are not yet ready to support change.

As with any major change, efforts to integrate systems and services may initially result in stakeholder resistance. Early resistance can be countered through consensus-building activities such as the following:

  • Solicit input from those who will be affected by change
  • Create and share a common vision
  • Articulate the benefits for each stakeholder group
  • Distribute basic information including goals and progress achieved
  • Celebrate achievements

Conducting activities specifically designed to build consensus can be effective. A variety of methods can be used. It may be helpful to develop a written communications plan to guide outreach to significant target audiences, such as:

  • elected and government officials
  • other agencies
  • practitioners
  • individuals with co-occurring disorders and their families
  • advocacy groups

Build a shared vision of what systemic change would mean by sharing information through Web sites, listservs, and newsletters. Conducting a meeting of all stakeholders can "rally the troops" and provide information to a wide variety of stakeholders.

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