Blog   |   E-Newsletter   |   Donate
EPFP Alumni Blog
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   

 

View all (33) posts »
 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Ellie Wilson (MN EPFP '13-14)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, October 9, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ellie Wilson is an Education Specialist and Research Coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration located in the University of Minnesota. In this role she works on policy and program initiatives that support people with disabilities. She previously served as the Director of Education for the Autism Society of Minnesota, a state-based nonprofit organization committed to education, support, and advocacy designed to enhance the lives of those affected by autism from birth through retirement. She oversaw programming, training, and general education for individuals with special needs, their families, and community members. Wilson has more than ten years of experience working with children with special needs in various settings.

 

Disability and Quality of Services

At the Institute on Community Integration we’re thinking about the quality of life and therefore the quality of services that people receive in the community. Within ICI, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Home and Community Based Services Outcome Measurement (RRTC-OM) focuses on how we think about the quality of services that are provided to people with disabilities, in their homes and in their work places. Many of these services are funded by government dollars, so there is a lot of public interest in the quality of their life. Past measures tended to focus on money spent on services, staffing ratio, and the movement of people from institutions to the community. It has become increasingly important to demonstrate the effectiveness of the services for persons with disabilities. You do think about personal outcomes, but the other part of quality is what happens in the aggregate and how we look at the quality of systems. There are a lot of issues that we talk about in disability policy that exactly mirror issues that we addressed in EPFP. For example, equity, policy transparency, and allocation of services. At ICI we talk a lot about system performance, such as funding and how we use data and data management to support policy.

RRTC-OM is funded by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitative Research. Over the next five years the center’s job is to think about how we as a broad community define quality of life and then how we measure it. Even though I live in Minnesota and think about local issues, the center works nationally. Measuring quality is an interesting field that was new to me, but ties to my EPFP experience.

I jumped from a small but well-respected nonprofit organization to ICI. I loved that job and I continue to support their work, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity to work with different leaders in the field of disability policy – whether that’s education, legal, human rights, or health policy. I’m still at the beginning of my career, so to work with these colleagues and develop a national network means a lot. EPFP had that same interdisciplinary and national lens so I think about it all the time.  

 

EPFP Experience

I came into EPFP because of another alum who went through the Minnesota program a few years before me. She described the program as being a place to surround yourself with intellectual conversation with well-rounded individuals. I felt that being involved in this type of group would inform the type of impact I wanted to make on the policy and communities I work with. It was a privilege to sit around a table with people who have such thoughtful perspectives and intelligence to contribute to the conversation.

What is so valuable about the EPFP process is that even though the core and fundamental ideas of the program were in education policies (which is important and tied to disability policy), when we were having our sessions in MN and in DC, we didn’t only approach a single policy but an approach to highly networked interdisciplinary collaborative efforts to all types of policy change. The natural effect is that even as you work in different areas, you can apply those experiences and lessons very broadly and I think that is unique to the professional programs out there.

Networking was also a big part of my EPFP experience. The Minnesota coordinators do an excellent job of connecting Fellows to people with all kinds of perspectives and careers, and it’s really inspiring to recognize all of those important players in your field. I come to DC all the time and I feel there are EPFP graduates everywhere.

 

Leadership Lessons Learned

The deeper I get into this work, the more I realize that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it’s more about effective coordination of the teams around you. I also think networking is one of the most important skills of a good leader. Successful leaders need to be inclined toward connecting and cooperating with as many potential or realized stakeholders as possible. While working among multiple stakeholders can also pose its own challenges, it leads to slow and steady progress and sustainability.

The most important lesson is the importance of laying groundwork early for strong relationships with those that could be allies in policy improvement and reform. Having the strong relationships early will make it a lot easier to try to plan out partnerships in the future. Sometimes you realize part way into a project or research that you can bring on a partner that would be effective or engage a new stakeholder. One thing I love about ICI is they’ve done a great job of creating a national advisory team before the research even began. It is the smartest way to do it, I can’t imagine doing it another way.

 

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

There is no single context in which policy is important to individuals and families with autism or other disabilities; they must navigate through housing, law enforcement, education, and employment sectors as does everyone. This naturally makes my work cross-boundary because we’re always working in so many contexts. The disability sector is unique because it crosses both disciplinary and partisan lines, which allows us the opportunity to engage people from across all spectrums who have a stake in this work.

The more work that I do advocating for local, state, and federal policy, one thing has become crystal clear to me. It is important and necessary to look at policy from an interdisciplinary, cross-leadership perspective. There is no way the hard work people do can advance to policy improvement and reform without the cooperation of folks from all types of fields. Even the work I am doing now, I am regularly in contact with all kinds of supporters who come from all kinds of fields. It is a challenge and a privilege to be able to work across that many disciplines with the same policy goal, but it is imperative to our success for anything we want to promote as our research progresses.

One of the biggest challenges is the juggling that comes with interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration. Though that’s the way to succeed it also sometimes means that you have to consider the priorities and needs of people who are coming from different policy angles – for example, budgets, unifying message, infrastructure concerns. It can be difficult to create something that captures the priorities across all of those disciplines. But when you can do it effectively and collaboratively, even in the toughest political climate, you have a shot at making positive change. 

Tags:  alumni  disability  leadership  research 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)
 
Contact Us at 4301 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 100 | Washington, DC 20008 | 202-822-8405 | epfp@iel.org

Membership Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal