To provide effective services that boost the safety, independence, and well-being of state residents, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) needs to exchange information routinely with the state’s 64 counties, which typically administer department-supervised programs.
In 2012, the department put in place a performance-based analysis strategy called C-Stat to help programs better focus on and improve performance outcomes. Because so many of the actual services are delivered at the county level, the County C-Stat program, instituted in 2014, provides more specific localized data.
Through County C-Stat, CDHS uses a three-pronged approach to help counties oversee and improve their performance on critical outcomes for their communities. Those include:
C-Stat is overseen by CDHS’ Performance Management Division (PMD). The PMD’s eight full-time employees—a director, a county performance specialist, a database manager, and five analysts—work with staff from the department’s five programmatic areas to examine trends in program data in monthly C-Stat meetings. The department created the County Performance Unit (CPU) within the PMD in 2013 in response to demands by the counties for more data and metrics on their performance.
The CPU sends out monthly County C-Stat reports and dashboards to the health and social service directors of all 64 counties. The one-to-two-page dashboards provide a one-year look at each county’s monthly performance for 16 measures across multiple CDHS programs. The results are color-coded to indicate whether statewide goals have been met.
In addition, more in-depth and lengthy reports look at the same metrics and compare a county’s performance with other counties. For these, analysts organize counties into large, medium, and small groups by population so comparisons are more meaningful. Graphs show the subject county’s performance compared to like-size peers and to itself over time.
Because programs are county-administered, officials at that level are responsible for their own performance management. That’s why comprehensive and regular data can be so critical.
“Half the battle of encouraging improved performance is helping counties maintain awareness of their performance on a consistent schedule and with consistent metrics,” said Rob Jakubowski, who directs the department’s Performance and Strategic Outcomes division, which includes PMD.
And county officials appreciate the information.
Matthew Dodson, director of human services for Archuleta County, said that County C-Stat data have been an important performance management tool. Supervisors in his office create team goals around the metrics, a process that helps build a culture of shared accountability.
This has been particularly important in the Child Welfare Unit, where County C-Stat has helped staff improve communications around case management, Dodson said. According to Dodson, those in the unit are reminded that behind each statistic is an individual who needs assistance. To emphasize that point, staff members are incentivized to achieve team goals through rewards, such as a potluck party or an extra hour of lunch.
CDHS recognized Archuleta’s success in creating a culture of accountability and continuous improvement with a county top performer award in 2018.
Performance and Partnerships Exchanges are peer-to-peer exchanges that help counties focus on improving performance on County C-Stat measures. The CPU identifies measures in areas in which statewide goals are not being met and then surveys county directors to finalize a topic for discussion.
In 2017, county human services directors voted to focus on error rates in food assistance payments because counties were struggling with this measure. CPU staff invited seven counties that had been successful in avoiding errors to share best practices. Since the exchanges started in 2014, PMD staff members have tracked improvement across all counties for eight of the 12 measures that have been the focus of an exchange.
Two or three times a year, the CPU conducts off-site workshops at which county-facing CDHS staff can share experiences, discuss ways to improve interactions with the counties, and strategize about outreach. At a workshop in April 2019, for example, a panel of county human services directors spoke about how state-county interactions could be improved, while an expert from the food assistance program provided a case study of the experience of a particular county.
The CPU also provides contact information for all CDHS staff members who interact with each county, which allows state personnel to collaborate and look for efficiencies.
With its robust C-Stat strategy, CDHS has been a leader in performance management at the state level. Bringing this program to Colorado counties has helped ensure that they have the information needed to improve performance at the service-delivery level.
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Sara Dube is the director and Priya Singh is a senior associate with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative.