Leadership in an Era of Disruption

A Report from the 2013 Human Services Summit

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When disruption is the new normal, what does leadership look like? Successful leaders see opportunities to respond in innovative ways, and disruption becomes a catalyst for better business models that guide individuals, families and communities to self-sufficiency.

To harness and share these lessons, Leadership for a Networked World, Accenture, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the American Public Human Services Association convened human services leaders for The 2013 Human Services Summit: Leadership in an Era of Disruption. The fourth annual Summit, held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., brought together the world’s premier human services practitioners, Harvard faculty, fellows, and researchers and select industry experts to explore these topics.

During the Summit leaders discussed strategies to engage stakeholders, frame issues, create new governance models and increase the pace of change and adaptation. Participants also taught each other how to use major disruptions to leverage resources, build stronger bridges across agencies and create new business models that improve services for our most vulnerable populations.

Throughout the Summit, participants developed new strategies and skills to move their human services organizations towards a generative business model – one better able to adapt organizational and technological innovations and focus on cross-agency and cross-community outcomes to address complex family problems and socioeconomic issues.

What is the Human Services Value Curve?

Learn more about the framework being adopted in the Health and Human Services field >

“Smart human services organizations will look to behavioral economics as a guide and start designing programs in ways that help citizens make better decisions. The subtle aspects of this choice architecture will lead to better outcomes over time.”
Cass Sunstein
Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School

Report Insights

  1. Building a Thriving Community: Live Well, San Diego

    For a number of years San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has found a way to offer services “from womb to tomb,” while addressing rising healthcare costs, surging social services demands, and an increasing prevalence of chronic disease. The burden is significant: The agency serves more than 750,000 people annually.

  2. Catalyzing Change: The Case for Reform in Spain

    During the last 50 years, Spain built one of the most successful welfare systems in the world. Highly regarded by its citizens, the system offered top-quality health services, support for workers who had lost their jobs and free, compulsory education. Fast-forward to 2008 and the economic crisis. Suddenly there was a dramatic imbalance in the system. With unemployment levels around 26 percent, an aging population, greater demands on the pension system and severe banking issues, this successful model was put at risk.

  3. Reframing Poverty: Transition to Success

    Matrix Human Services, a non-profit human services provider led by Dr. Marcella Wilson, set out to create and implement a national model of care without new legislation or policy change. This model would be scalable, sustainable, measurable and integrated into existing funding streams across various silos. It would unite systems and provide holistic services that would help clients achieve self-sufficiency.

“As leaders bringing a new operating model forward, you have to be vigilant about driving alignment across the enterprise – the programs, processes and people – and most importantly – embedding supporting values into the culture.”
David Ager
Senior Fellow, Harvard Business School


Human services providers around the country are operating during a particularly turbulent period. Changes in the economy, demographics, technology, legislation and more have forced leaders to adapt and innovate. In the face of major disruptions, they have had to be creative, resilient and collaborative to continue providing essential services to our country’s most vulnerable populations.

To help human services providers use these significant disruptions as a catalyst for positive change, Leadership for a Networked World, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, Accenture and the American Public Health Services Association convened the 2013 Human Services Summit at Harvard University.

Summit participants offered strategies for creating catalytic change, redesigning systems and developing new frameworks to understand our most pressing challenges. The case sessions inspired participants to develop bold, holistic goals, engage new partners, take advantage of data and technology, build new governance models and find new opportunities to integrate processes and systems.

Most importantly, the Summit validated the importance of leading innovation and change in the face of serious disruption so that human services systems can continue to build healthier, safer, thriving communities.

The Executive Leadership Group

Leadership for a Networked World, and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard would like to thank the Executive Leadership Group for their vision and ideas that aided the development of this Summit.

Uma Ahluwalia
Montgomery County (MD) Department of Health and Human Services
Kim Hood
Executive Director
Utah Department of Administrative Services
Tracy Wareing Evans
President and CEO
American Public Human Services Association

Hosted by

Leadership for a Networked World’s applied research, student innovation challenge, and on-campus summit programs are an initiative of Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. TECH is a hub for students, faculty, alumni, and government and industry leaders to learn together, collaborate, and innovate. LNW accelerates these efforts by connecting leaders across sectors and developing cutting-edge thought leadership on innovation and organizational transformation.

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