Services Rich and Systems Poor in Springfield, MO

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth piece in a series called “Putting Anthropology to Work” contributed by students of Margaret Buckner at Missouri State University.

In my research, I looked at the issue of Springfield, Missouri being “services rich, systems poor.” I focused specifically on an internal analysis of an umbrella organization in Springfield, the Impacting Poverty Collaborative. The Impacting Poverty Collaborative, or IPC, was formed to address the issues of the impoverished community. I focused on some of the issues the IPC has been having addressing this community need, concentrating specifically on accessibility and duplication of services. I used the ethnographic methods of formal organization analysis, social networking analysis, mapping, and participant observation to research this question.

First, it is important to note that poverty in Springfield, with help from the Impacting Poverty Collaborative, has been going down. In the 2017 yearly update, Greene County’s poverty rate had decreased from 20.6 percent to 17.7 percent since 2016. However, I have heard from various Collaborative members that this issue is not with the (unemployed) impoverished community, which has many resources allocated for their aid, but with the working poor, who have experienced the “cliff effect” and have almost no resources to assist them. The cliff effect is the idea is that once someone makes too much money, all aid to them stops and the individual is less affluent than initially, even with a job. They “fall off a cliff.”

My research led to two main problems with the IPC: bureaucratic issues and representation. The IPC is bureaucratically slow. I believe this is due to the short, infrequent meetings and too-vague membership requirements of the IPC, which state that “Agency members may send more than one staff person to meetings, and may rotate representation as desired.” This is an issue in cases of majority vote, and creates under-informed Collaborative members. I also believe that only a handful of people actively participate in Collaborative goings-on: those in leadership positions and those affiliated with the meeting location.

Representation is also an issue for the IPC. The members of the Collaborative do not represent the demographics of the impoverished.  IPC says it would welcome representatives of the underresourced, but to do so it should consider holding meetings in a more accessible location and at more accessible times; for example, the working poor community could be unable to meet during working hours.  I also suggest that the IPC markets better to these communities to draw members.

I also have found that the IPC has not successfully reduced the duplication of services in Springfield. Using social networking analysis software, I have started a list of service providers in Springfield, but a more complete list could be found via 2-1-1, an all-in-one service information phone number.  I believe 2-1-1 could benefit from marketing. I am aware that these organizations do not have a marketing budget, but I suggest looking into offering an unpaid marketing internship through one of the many local colleges.

Kara Venzian is an undergraduate student at Missouri State University.

Please send news items, contributions, and comments to CSAS contributing editors Cristina Ortiz ([email protected]) or Carrie Hough ([email protected]).

Cite as: Venzian, Kara. 2017. “Services Rich and Systems Poor in Springfield, MO.” Anthropology News website, August 23, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.525

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