«DiscoVeriNg HomelessNess Volume 13, Number 1 • 2011 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
expect training that enables them to act knowledgeably and skillfully. Policymakers may consider providing more resources for technology training and for implementation, such as policy and procedure manuals. The study also indicated that HMIS are not being used to their full capacity yet, despite being introduced to homeless-services providers in 1999. This delay in use suggests that the implementation is a long-term process that will require continued support from HUD.
Somewhat related, the variability in use indicates that policymakers would benefit from funding more implementation research. It is problematic to begin using data from HMIS without understanding who is using the systems and how. If not all organizations are using the HMIS in their communities regularly, the data from these HMIS may underestimate homeless counts or present a biased view of the population’s characteristics.
In summary, this study recommends to HUD and other homelessness policymakers that they continue their efforts to expand HMIS utilization among service providers. These efforts include providing funding and technical assistance to organizations using HMIS. The study also reveals that in many organizations, staff members still do not log on to their HMIS regularly, or they have designated HMIS use to only one staff member. In these organizations, staff members, and ultimately clients, are not able to benefit from HMIS’s full capacity as a tool of service. In these organizations, staff members may be capturing client counts and demographics, but it is unlikely they are maintaining up-to-date counts or coordinating care with other providers when they access the HMIS only once a month or rely on one person’s HMIS use.
Exhibit 4 provides a summary model of the dissemination process suggested in this study. It demonstrates how the spread and adoption of new technologies among organizations create a cyclical Exhibit 4
Research & Policy Context The dynamic, cyclical process by which innovations are designed, adopted, and implemented in organizations. As innovations are disseminated from the research and policy context into the organization, they may be changed according to the unique organizational context. Again, as staff members adopt the new innovations, they alter them to the daily work context. Finally, through implementation, research, and policy, members may decide to alter the original innovations based on evaluation and feedback from users.
process in which there is constant interplay between the organizational social context and the staff members in these organizations, the technology, and the research community that is creating these new tools. In fact, the software company that produces the HMIS software analyzed in this study, ServicePoint, is currently launching a new software version. The updated version will require organizations and staff members to learn and adapt to a new system.
Improving the software is just one aspect of technology diffusion that is necessary for organizations to implement HMIS fully. This study suggests that changing organizational culture and other aspects of the organizational social context may be critical to the long-term utility of HMIS. In addition, the technology may change the culture in ways that then necessitate a change in the technology again. It is a dynamic process that requires perpetual monitoring and maintenance. The efforts, however, may be well worth the benefits HMIS can confer to homeless-services providers and their clients. By providing streamlined care and accessing higher quality data, homeless-services providers will be able to better understand and predict the needs of people who are homeless.
This study has demonstrated that the HMIS is not being used to its full capacity and that substantial variability in use exists among service providers. Policymakers and practitioners using the HMIS as a tool to improve homeless services would benefit from encouraging an integrated and sustained use that is supported by ongoing technical and organizational assistance. Ideally, the system should be accessed regularly to record client services in the real time. Data should reflect accurately the clients served; policymakers and other service providers can then access the data. Use of tools such as ID cards would streamline client assessment procedures and facilitate care. Finally, the homeless-services providers can foster an organizational culture that supports technology use by encouraging proficiency among staff members. In the current environment of increasing technology and innovation, being proficient in the use of an information management system is critical to efficient and effective services for the homeless.
Acknowledgments Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant from the Office of University Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A version of this article was presented at the 22nd National Symposium on Doctoral Research in Social Work at The Ohio State University College of Social Work in Columbus, Ohio, on May 1,
2010. The author thanks David Patterson, Chris Kilgore, John Orme, Sarah Craun, and Tom Ladd for their help in preparing the manuscript. Most importantly, she thanks the East Tennessee Coalition to End Homelessness and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness for their participation in the research.
Author Courtney Cronley is a postdoctoral associate at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
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