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Focusing on the whole family through research, policy and practice: Q&A with Jodi Sandfort

Human Services

At the Redesign for Whole Families Summit in Minneapolis, human services providers, academic researchers and government officials will come together to discuss what needs to be considered to design more effective programs and systems to support families. The summit is the first of its kind and will be held at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on May 14 and 15. Human Services Program Officer Michael Shaw talked with Jodi Sandfort, academic director of the Future Services Institute, about the upcoming event.

MICHAEL: What is the origin of Redesign for Whole Families Summit?

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JODI: The idea for the summit came from a Minnesota statewide advisory council. The advisers agreed that human services integration with whole families at the center was where we needed to focus our attention. We realized that there wasn’t a national convening for research, policy and practice and decided to develop the summit to fill that void. We hope that this will be the first of many annual summits because these conversations are important for the future of our field.

MICHAEL: What is different about this summit?

JODI: People exist in professional silos and learn to speak particular languages whether they’re related to human services program design, scholarly research or fundraising. We know that the kind of knowledge we need to solve problems resides in all these silos. This is why we’re bringing together researchers, state program directors, county government officials, innovation directors, nonprofit leaders and funders to work together on service integration.

Also, this summit is an opportunity to hear about cutting-edge research in a dynamic, engaging way. What’s different about this summit is that the focus is on the use of the research. We want to fuel new research questions and discovery based on bringing together professionals from many different parts of the field.

The place we’re asking our participants to go is somewhere most professionals don’t go very often. A lot of this discussion is going to be about the opportunity we have to offer a professional human services experience for people who need it the most. We need to treat our clients with the utmost respect. We’re going to give providers the insight and inspiration to do just that.

MICHAEL: What can attendees expect to learn from the research presentations that they can apply directly to their work in human services?

JODI: What’s unique about the summit is that the research will be presented as a teaser! More than just listening to an expert and taking notes, attendees will listen and will immediately start to collaborate with other attendees and discuss the implications of the research. The main sessions will bring attendees together to think about how the research can change operations and create new opportunities for service delivery. We will focus on how you can redesign the human services system for whole families from the front line to program design to the systems level.

MICHAEL: What are you most excited about?

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JODI: I am most excited to show that human services provision can be about delivering excellence. We are creating a professional expectation that people who are the most disadvantaged deserve the most research-informed practices that improve their lives.

MICHAEL: There is a growing recognition that human services providers need to innovate and that we need to change the service delivery system to one that increases social and economic mobility for people. How will participants be able to apply these ideas to action?

JODI: This summit is designed so that people will be able to act from their positions. Researchers will learn directly from program operators and will develop new, more relevant research. Front-line providers will take lessons about dynamics of helping or early trauma and immediately be able to apply new insights to client intake or case planning. State and county program managers will take research briefs and inform their planning work.

The summit will provide information that will be relevant for this diverse audience to help each person take ideas to action.

A lot of times, people have the misconception that you create change by offering a training and they think, “Oh we’re going to train our way out of this mix.” This summit focuses on people’s leadership and innovation instead of training. The audience members will know immediately how to translate these ideas to action in their communities. We hope ultimately that people will innovate and create more integrative services.

MICHAEL: What do you hope participants learn at the summit?

JODI: There is a fundamental change that needs to happen in the way health and human services operates. And this will prepare people. I hope that people leave feeling inspired about how important it is to deal with the technical barriers that lead to integration. Throughout this process, we’ve partnered with families to understand their vision of integrated services, and I hope people will leave feeling supported, courageous to grapple with the challenges.

MICHAEL: What are you looking for attendees to bring?

JODI: We encourage attendees to bring their full commitment as changemakers and the fierce attention to exploring questions that matter. So much of what limits our effectiveness is our own limiting beliefs about what is possible in terms of change.  

Register for the Redesign for Whole Families Summit.

Jodi Sandfort, academic director of the Future Services Institute

Jodi Sandfort is the academic director of the Future Services Institute. She is also a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and chairs the Management and Leadership Area.


Michael Shaw, program officer with The Kresge Foundation's Human Services Program

Michael Shaw is a program officer with Kresge’s Human Services Program.