There’s a fascinating article in the November-December 2006 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine about Professor Tina Rzepnicki‘s use of "event trees" and other tools of the discipline known as root-cause analysis to figure out where things go wrong in providing social services.  Most arresting to those do strategic planning is the Professor’s advice to be wary of efforts to correct outcomes by system-wide reform.  She notes that when something goes wrong (e.g. a child dies in foster care), people tend to make policy-level recommendations (e.g. "Reunite kids with their birth families!") rather than identify and correct the tiny tactical errors that produced the huge catastrophe. 

The same understanding (that "God is in the details," as Mies said) underpins recent efforts by hospitals to reduce errors in prescription administration: identify and plug the slip between cup and lip; there’s no need to recommend switching to a thermos.

Food for thought for those under the impression that nonprofits don’t think big enough.  Apparently sometimes they don’t think small enough.



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