Disruption is in our DNA

Disruption is in our DNA

A Harvard Case Study on Lutheran Services in America

The case study “Disruption is in our DNA: Lutheran Services in America and the Results Innovation Lab” chronicles how we are fundamentally challenging the status quo through innovation and collaboration and features our initiative to close disparities for children, youth and families and change outcomes in the child welfare system. The study was produced by Dr. Antonio Oftelie, Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University.

“This is our mission moment to chart a new path forward, one that leads us to the future we want. The world is ripe for disruption.”

Charlotte Haberaecker
President & CEO
Lutheran Services in America


Catalyst for Change & Innovation

Lutheran Services in America plays a decidedly different role as a national nonprofit that has moved beyond a traditional membership model into a catalyst for network-wide change that addresses critical needs in our communities. We lift up innovative solutions and form collaborations with our member organizations and partners in healthcare, philanthropy, academia and others to work together in a broader ecosystem and bring new approaches to scale. We channel that drive to affect change across the country, including our Results Innovation Lab.

Through our Lab, we are decreasing the disproportionate number of children of color separated from their family, reducing youth of color’s length of stay in foster care and improving the abysmal outcomes for children transitioning out of the child welfare system. Together, we are advancing our goal to achieve equitable outcomes for 20,000 children and families in America by 2024.

“The Results Innovation Lab was generating a ripple effect like when you throw a stone in the water. It didn’t happen all at once. It’s just been a gradual evolution, but it’s the Lab’s framework that has helped us to make those changes happen.”

Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen
President & CEO
Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota

Authentic Collaboration

We maintain a deep reservoir of trust, expertise and a collaborative culture to fuel new approaches and ideas and affect transformative change. This level of collaboration is inspired by the Lutheran tradition of empowering people to reach their full potential and strengthening communities so that all people can thrive.

As a national organization, we have a “network lens” to spot nationwide trends and identify partnership opportunities to augment, sustain and amplify the work and results. Our members engage a range of stakeholders around shared goals; for example, through our Results Innovation Lab, Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota joined with schools, law enforcement, the court system and others to reduce the rearrest rate of youth in the juvenile justice system.

As Charlotte Haberaecker noted, “we just looked at it as two-plus-two can equal ten here.

Adopting a Race Equity Lens

The organizations in our Lab examine their work through a race equity lens by disaggregating data by race, meeting social determinants of health that influence outcomes and addressing racial biases.

Beverly Jones, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, noted the vital insight central to the Lab’s work that “data is powerful” and went on to make a powerful impact at her organization:

The permanency rate for Black foster care children
increased from 4% in 2018 to 47% in 2020 and
the length of stay for Black children decreased by 16% over the same period.

Looking to the Future

We can achieve a world where all families are supported and realize equitable outcomes. Together, we can accelerate the shift of child welfare funding from intervention to prevention through our results and the promise of the Family First Prevention Services Act. Stemming from the Results Innovation Lab’s positive impact, we secured a multi-year grant to support our Family Stabilization Initiative that implements an evidence-based family wraparound model in four states to reach families in crisis and empower them to stay together.

Through the work of our committed Results Innovation Lab leaders and partners, we have created momentum to solidify our Lab as an engine that fuels the Lutheran Services in America network with adaptive energy, capacity for innovation and the ability to confront the disruptive forces of the 21st century.

With Lutheran Services in America, we are driving transformation through the Results Innovation Lab. We bring in partners from across the country to look at the big challenges we’re all facing and our big, audacious goals, and then think about what we can do to dramatically change the trajectory of outcomes for people, families and communities. We work together to figure out what can the future look like? And what will it take to
build that future?

Dr. Antonio Oftelie
Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World
Harvard University


About Dr. Antonio Oftelie

Dr. OftelieExecutive Director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University, conducts research, teaches and advises on how leaders create exceptional environments for organizational innovation and adaptation. He has developed and taught in more than 60 Harvard executive education programs.