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February 2012Vol. 13, No. 1Learning While Doing and Organizational Change

As the Casey Foundation shifted its practice from finding long-term foster care families for children and youth to securing more permanent homes—a process dubbed Move to Greater Permanence (MGP)—it achieved several positive outcomes. The Casey Foundation saw this change as an opportunity to become a learning organization. To help guide other child welfare agencies, Casey Family Services (the direct services arm of the Casey Foundation) produced a white paper explaining its learning-while-doing approach to organizational change, including its processes, implementation techniques, and lessons learned.

The brief details 12 strategies based on data collected over 5 years. The key was incremental changes using first- and second-order change philosophy, meaning that small changes in staffing or programs were made first, and then larger, more transformative changes followed. The agency implemented the MGP change in two phases, a strategic planning phase and an assessment of agency assets available for the transformation.  

The brief highlights some of the growing pains that accompanied the organizational change. Caseload turnover increased, which affected the stability of reimbursements until the agency learned to manage the higher turnover rate. Preliminary results, however, show that the new framework is effective:

  • Youth have shorter stays in foster care, 2.6 years compared to 5.5 years.
  • More youth exit care within the first 18 months, 56 percent compared to 23 percent.
  • Youth exiting to reunification, adoption, or guardianship within 18 months increased from 10 percent to 45 percent.

Learning While Doing in the Human Services Sector: Becoming a Learning Organization Through Organizational Change is available on the Casey Family Services website:  (816 KB)