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May 3, 2024

A Public Service Profile on Strategically Addressing Our Community’s Needs

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Coudriet - County Manager, New Hanover County Government

New Hanover County is committed to providing those we serve with the programs and amenities that enhance and ensure a strong quality of life in our community. 
That statement often brings up the question: how? How does the county determine what to fund and offer for the betterment of our citizens? 
Gut feelings and intuition don’t cut it anymore. Simply thinking a program is important or necessary doesn’t work. Basing decisions on data and analytics is crucial. This approach helps our team identify unmet needs and ensures that existing services are effective or adjusted as necessary.  
This is where our Office of Strategy comes in. 
Each day, they delve into the metrics, gathering intel in a variety of ways to make sure county operations are providing the level of service necessary to support a thriving community. 
One of the biggest areas this team has focused on in recent years is developing a strategic plan to address the mental health and substance use disorder needs of our residents. This is truly a sizable undertaking that involves a lot of moving parts and various organizations, both in county government and in collaboration with community partners. 
Tara Robles, a Strategy Analyst at the county, is one of the team members playing a significant role in this work. Recently, Tara and her colleagues launched the second installment of a Fellows Program that will provide tuition assistance to in-state college students who are seeking a career in the mental health care field, and are currently pursuing either a master's-level mental health degree program or a doctoral degree as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. 
By taking part in this program, these students commit to working in New Hanover County following graduation, helping them pay for their education while creating a network of service providers to meet the county’s growing need. 
For this month’s Public Service Profile, I spoke with Tara about the work she does in the Office of Strategy to understand our community’s needs and how this specific program is aimed at addressing a significant issue that impacts everyone here in New Hanover County. That conversation is below …
Tara, we talk a lot about data-driven decision-making, but someone has to pull that information together and give us the overall picture of what issues need our attention. I’m sure it’s not easy to do or explain, but maybe walk us through how you work to collect and analyze the information that shapes some of what we focus on as a county. 
Our Strategy team is very intentional when planning out our facilitation process. We use a variety of methods and techniques to gather insight, feedback, and data that help us see the big picture. For instance, we use graphic histories to map the journey of groups or departments, illuminating past lessons and achievements that help inform future directions. Similarly, context maps offer a panoramic view of current factors and trends that may influence the team’s work and decisions. We also use flowcharts to visualize processes and matrix diagrams to analyze data relationships. Each session is customized for the group we're working with and the intended goal. This gives us the ability to pull out the big takeaways and key topics. 
We embrace our role as facilitators rather than subject matter experts, allowing us to prioritize the needs of our participants. This approach fosters an atmosphere of collaboration, creativity, and clarity, empowering everyone involved to contribute their expertise and insights freely. 
Meeting customer needs is at the heart of everything we do as an organization, and it’s especially central to your role in the Office of Strategy. I’d love to learn a little more about how the needs of those we serve impact the work you and your team do. How do you take what they say and use it to help us build plans and programming that helps them? 
The voice and perspective of our customer is the most powerful and insightful tool in our toolkit. When we merge the insights gained from the people working in the profession with the needs and expectations of our customers, innovation springs to life, illuminating a clear path forward. We prioritize active listening, ensuring both our colleagues and customers feel not just heard, but truly understood. Finally, we use data to provide indisputable evidence that our actions are efficient, effective, and equitable. 
I want to touch a little bit on this Fellows Program we have going on. This will be our second cohort of students, supporting their higher education goals. What should people know about the program, or why do you think it is important to our community?
I am privileged to be part of a dynamic working group of visionary leaders who came together to purposefully craft this program. It is rooted in the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder strategic plan and aims to address a critical need – developing a pipeline for mental health care providers. By doing so, we're dedicated to ensuring that every resident has access to vital services that support their mental well-being. The program provides forgivable tuition assistance to in-state college students pursuing a master’s level mental health degree or a doctoral degree as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.  
I believe this initiative is incredibly important, especially given the current collective push to break down the barriers surrounding mental health stigma and streamline access to crucial services. We recognize that reaching out for help can be daunting for many individuals and this program not only establishes the necessary infrastructure of providers but also ensures that those who do reach out are met with instant support and guidance. 
The application window for the Fall 2024 semester will remain open until June 30, 2024; For more information and to access the application, please check out the Fellows Program page
I want to thank Tara for her work, not only to gather the information but to help decipher it so we can build targeted plans and strategies that are in the best interest of our community. We believe this Fellows Program, along with numerous other initiatives aimed at addressing the mental health and substance use disorder crisis, will have a meaningful impact on the lives of people we know and love for years to come. I invite you to learn more about our Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Strategy or the Fellows Program by visiting our Office of Strategy online.

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