Massachusetts: Combining Agile With Change and Implementation to Improve Parent Engagement

State Outline

Read how Massachusetts combined Agile and Change and Implementation approaches to make progress toward improved practices and outcomes (part 1 of 2).

Pairing Up for Change

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) recognized that changes were needed to achieve its vision of meaningful parent engagement as an essential part of quality child welfare services. The state had strong leadership support for continuous quality improvement (CQI) and an established infrastructure for using Agile Scrum. This accelerated project management approach breaks down tasks into short sprints (2-week cycles) and releases (groups of sprints to support achievement of a milestone). While helpful as a technical method for making progress toward goals, Agile was not sufficient for addressing adaptive child welfare challenges and advancing transformational change.

Massachusetts turned to the Capacity Building Center for States (the Center) and together they paired the Center’s Change and Implementation approach for making system and practice improvements with Agile, a process used to manage change under compressed timeframes. As explained by Jacque Carl, DCF Director of CQI, “Change and Implementation is the what and why and Agile is the how and when.” As shown in the exhibit, both approaches share an emphasis on collaborative teaming, iterative approaches, and continuous improvement.


Change and Implementation

Both Approaches

  • Offers a structured project management approach
  • Features short sprint cycles of incremental steps
  • Results in frequent deliverables and products
  • Incorporates rapid testing and adaptation
  • Emphasizes responsiveness to evolving needs
  • Has its roots in the software development industry and has been adopted in various organizations
  • Offers a structured approach for system and practice improvement
  • Describes key processes from exploring a problem and identifying solutions through implementing
  • interventions and monitoring results
  • Emphasizes the inclusion of lived experience and advancing equity
  • Builds on implementation science and has been tailored for child welfare
  • Require collaboration and teaming
  • Adopt an iterative approach
  • Incorporate testing and feedback loops
  • Focus on continuous improvement

Change and Implementation is the what and why and Agile is the how and when.

Rapid Cycle Activities

Working together, DCF and the Center applied Change and Implementation processes within the fast-paced structure of Agile Scrum sprints and releases, along the way planning, testing, and adapting pieces. Center staff and consultants offered guidance, practical tools, and specialized expertise as needed. Within a 12-month period, inclusive teams of agency leaders, social workers, people with lived child welfare experience, and others: 

  • Conducted indepth problem exploration related to parent engagement challenges, identified an underlying root cause reflecting a lack of clearly defined practice behaviors associated with engagement, and built a theory of change to show the pathway to desired outcomes
  • Developed, tested, and refined a practice profile that identified core elements of parent engagement, specified a standard set of practice behaviors associated with optimal practices, and highlighted themes of culture and identity
  • Established related supports to build skills and reinforce practices, including a fidelity tool, practice profile training, coaching, on-the-job learning opportunities for social workers and supervisors, and regular meetings of a community of practice
  • Piloted and evaluated use of the practice profile in initial family assessments and assessed findings from the fidelity tool, case record reviews, and interviews with parents, social workers, and supervisors

The pilot and evaluation findings were used to adapt the practice profile and related skill-building and practice supports and to prepare for another round of implementation piloting and testing. 

Keys to Success

In a short timeframe, this partnership has resulted in notable progress to embed desired engagement behaviors in practice and instill a shared sense of accountability to move forward.

The DCF and Center partners identified several critical components of the successful pairing of Agile with Change and Implementation:

  • Leadership support and engagement in the change processes
  • Inclusion of staff and people with lived child welfare experience throughout development
  • Existing emphasis on data and strong CQI processes
  • Flexibility to accelerate Change and Implementation processes that typically take longer to complete and to adapt sprint cycles when warranted without compromising the integrity of each process

Laura Brody, DCF Regional Director, advised others adopting similar fast-paced and implementation science-informed approaches: “Expect that it might feel overwhelming at first and you have to not give up quickly. It really is about turning large things into small steps. You’re not going to fix everything all at once. You’re going to do it in many pieces, and you have to be patient, and you have to follow the processes.” 

Read more about the process of changing practice behaviors in part 2.

Telling Our Story: Partnering with the Center for States logo

Take a glimpse into how jurisdictions are partnering with the Center for States to build capacity and improve outcomes for children, youth, and families.

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Learn About the Collaborative’s Capacity Building Approach

Capacity building is an ongoing, evidence-informed process that helps create a productive and effective child welfare system to better serve all children, youth, and families. 

Read the following publications to learn more about capacity building at the Center for States and the Collaborative:

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