Systems Integration: Building Comprehensive Human Service Systems

Systems Integration: Overview

Systems integration flows from a general belief that the existing human services structure comprises an array of potentially related programs that deliver distinct benefits or services to narrowly defined target populations. Each program can be thought of as representing a service silo: a separate and distinct funnel through which money, regulations, and professional norms and expectations flow. As a whole, the configuration of services available to support and assist families in their efforts to become self-sufficient members of society can be complex, confusing, redundant, and incoherent.

The opposite of this silo-based approach to organizing and delivering human services is often coined “systems integration.” What exactly is systems integration? Mark Ragan, drawing on extensive fieldwork completed on behalf of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, concluded that:

There is no single answer. Based on observations at the sites visited for this study, service integration is a combination of strategies that simplifies and facilitates clients’ access to benefits and services. Each site has implemented a distinctive mix of strategies, processes, and partner agencies.[1]

IRP researchers have been at the forefront of applied research on systems integration, visiting sites across the country that are attempting to integrate their systems; working with a loose confederation of organizations and individuals known as the Service Integration Network or SINET; and interviewing front-line human services workers and clients. This work has led to the development of resources for practitioners, policymakers, and researchers, some of which are described and linked to above.

[1] Mark Ragan, Building Better Human Service Systems: Integrating Services for Income Support and Related Programs, Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute of Government, February 2003, p. 3. Ragan spent time in several sites, including Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin; El Paso County, Colorado; Montgomery County, Ohio; Anoka County, Minnesota; and San Mateo County, California.