Diversity and Scale: A challenge for agency management

A child protection agency is a complex enterprise. That complexity ranges along two dimensions: diversity and scale. The diversity dimension addresses the number of dissimilar elements present in the enterprise and the scale dimension addresses the number of similar elements present in the enterprise. This allows us to chart the complexity in a 2x2 grid: high diversity/high scale, high diversity/low scale, low diversity/high scale, and low diversity/low scale. Keep this grid in mind as we expand the discussion.

Diversity addresses the number of dissimilar elements in the enterprise. For example, a child protection agency typically has units or departments for intake and investigation, ongoing or extended services, placement services, fiscal services, administrative and facilities services, quality assurance and compliance services, and others. These are dissimilar elements that collectively make up the enterprise. The more such elements there are, the more diverse the enterprise.

Diversity extends to the next level within the enterprise. For example, Intake and investigation services might be divided into screening, emergency response services, abuse/neglect investigations, and extended intake services for situations that are not emergent, are not associated with severe abuse/neglect, and where extended initial intervention may be sufficient to correct the presenting problem or condition without further agency intervention. Other services areas may be likewise divided into dissimilar elements thus compounding the diversity of the enterprise.

Scale addresses the number of similar elements in the enterprise. For example, an agency with one intake screener has lower scale with respect to that element than an agency with twenty intake screeners. An agency with twenty-five ongoing services units has higher scale with respect to that element than an agency with three ongoing services units, assuming that all ongoing services units are more or less similar to each other.

The complexity of an agency increases as scale increases. The complexity also increases as diversity increases. The point to see here is this. Large agencies have higher scale than smaller agencies but may have lower diversity. Alternatively, small agencies have lower scale but may have higher diversity than larger agencies. The conclusion is that the complexity of an agency is not necessarily related to its size.

We attend carefully to scale within our agencies. Itís important to allocate enough resources to each element within the enterprise. Equally importantly, itís important to avoid allocating more resources (people, facilities, services, equipment, etc.) to an element than minimally necessary to assure the success of the element. Resources are limited and must be allocated carefully and thoughtfully.

The point that is frequently overlooked is that diversity must also be carefully and thoughtfully allocated. Individuals and organizations cannot function effectively if diversity is either too low or too high. For example, some resources must be allocated to both screening and investigations. Some resources must be allocated to placement and facilities. This allocation process leads to diversity within the enterprise. The issue is what elements are necessary for the overall success of the enterprise. Clearly, there is a minimum diversity that is necessary.

At the same time, too much diversity results in the enterprise becoming excessively complex to manage effectively and efficiently. At the extreme, diversity could expand to the level where everything each person does is seen as unique and separate from everything else that is done by anyone in the agency. Everyone is a specialist and everything people do is specialized.

Just as each expenditure needs to be justified, each increase in diversity needs to be justified. Just as expenditures need to be intentionally reduced to the minimum necessary for operational success, diversity needs to be reduced to the minimum necessary for operational success. Excessive or unnecessary diversity is as ill considered and inappropriate as unnecessary scale.
By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. November 4, 2017