By Adam J. Pearson
Social Work was designed from its onset to operate on multiple levels at once. At the greatest extremes of scale, we have micro-level clinical work with individuals, couples, and families and work on the macro-level large structures of cities, provinces, nations, and international coalitions.
As I prepared for a project in Anti-Oppressive Practice on the connections between micro and macro-level social work and how that gap is best be spanned, it soon became clear that community practice offers a key and vital bridge between the two practice domains. In community work, after all, the clinical and the structural and systemic meet and we are able to work on both aspects simultaneously. Here, we can make changes that impact individuals and families, but can also make small movements to shift the tides of power, privilege, and resource access at the larger levels of society.
Of course, the fact that community work spans the micro and macro domains can make it somewhat difficult to theoretically “place” community work. Is it meso-level? Is it partially micro and partially macro? I would argue that it can be all of the above. It all depends on the particular form of community work doing.
As I attempt to contextualize community practice within the larger framework of macro practice, it seems to me that after surveying the literature, macro social work can be broken down into 6 main domains or broad areas of practice, each of which can have community components (here, I am drawing mainly on Holt et al., 2017, Brueggemann, 2013, and Wadud, 2016):
- 1. Community organizing
- 2. Progressive management (PM)
- 3. Law and policy change
- 4. Social action and activism
- 5. Advocacy and coalition work
- 6. Project and program development
The overarching goal of all of these practice domains is essentially the same, namely to work towards large-scale change to improve well-being at the community, city, province, nation, or international levels.
- Community Organizing
The first domain, or community organizing, can be defined as bringing people together to generate adurable power base for an organization representing the community to take action on an issue. (Think a long-term union rather than a short-term protest group)
Community organizing breaks down into three main types:
- Grassroots/Civil organizing – building power groups from scratch by knocking on doors or through social media rallying around an issue.
- Faith-based organizing – building groups around a religious congregation (e.g. Malcolm X started in his Masjid Malcolm Shabazz)
- Broad-based organizing – recruiting from both secular/civic and religious organizations (e.g. IAF –Industrial Areas Foundation, which strengthens local leadership, builds solidarity, supports action plans)
2. Progressive Management (PM)
The second domain, or progressive management (PM), can be defined as Definition: Making change in an organization by rising to a leadership position and changing its policies to benefit members and clients.
- Requires building strong rapport and a common vision with whole team to overcome resistance to change, a management style
- Distinct from status-quo management, which aims to keep an existing structure intact.
3. Law and Policy Change
The third main domain of macro practice, law and policy change, can be dined as organizing interventions to change existing policies or introduce new laws at the organizational, municipal, provincial, national, or international levels.
- A good example is rights-based community organizing: organizing community groups to draft municipal ordinances (laws) to protect local people and environmental rights. The Environmental Legal Defense Fund (ELDF.org), for instance, helps local communities to develop city ordinances that block corporations from exploiting their natural resources. In order to overturn those ordinances, larger structures of government or corporations must sue the city and take it to court. This creates a great deal of negative publicity for the corporation as it involves disputing a local community’s right to make decisions about the well-being of people in its domain. This publicity is intended to help raise a public outcry to limit the power of the corporation and increase the power of the community.
- The legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005 was another example of a successful law change macro-social work intervention that affected the TSLGBTQ community on the community level and the lives of its members on the micro-level.
4. Social Action and Activism
The fourth main domain of macro practice, social action and activism, can be define as efforts to promote positive social, political, economic, or environmental reforms or block negative ones with the desire to make improvements in society.
These initiatives are often community-driven and community-oriented and encompass letter-writing, political campaigns, boycotts, rallies, strikes, sit-ins, street marches, transgressive or political art, and many other forms of action.
5. Advocacy and Coalition Work
The fifth main domain of macro-work, advocacy and coalition work, can be defined as intervening to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems. Actions done at this level of intervention can include things like media campaigns, public speaking, research, and lobbying.
The different between macro-level advocacy work and micro-level advocacy work is that we are not here advocating on the basis only of individuals, a couple, or a family in terms of their access to resources, for instance. Instead, we are aiming to advocate on behalf of entire communities or groups on the municipal, provincial, national, and international levels, so the scale of issues is larger and so is the required level of solutions. On this level, the example of a family or an individual can be used to leverage change in larger structures. I’m thinking here of how Indigenous Peoples are trying to use cases like that of Colten Boushie to work towards greater justice for Indigenous communities, revamping of the colonialist legal system, and so on.
In this fifth domain, I also include coalitions or alliances between different organizations and professionals with a common cause. Coalitions are often very helpful and very necessary to get significant change to happen. One of the most successful example of a coalitions worth noting here is the coalition of unions in France. When one French union strikes, the others strike as well, which results in a shut-down of the country that forces the government to make changes quickly as a response to the resulting socially-engineered emergency. The result is rapid and effective change. This is coalition-based change at its best, although many less drastic coalitions of different forms are possible and often socially effective.
6. Project and Program Development
The sixth domain of macro-practice is project and program development, which can be defined as creating organizations, programs or initiatives to fill in the gaps between what’s needed and what’s available through services and resources.
I recently participated in a protest for justice for Colten Boushie and many other Indigenous individuals and families who have been failed by the justice system. On this occasion, Nakuset, the executive director of the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter had this to say:
“If the government won’t make programs for Indigenous Peoples, then we’ll make our own programs. If they won’t give us resources, then we’ll make our own resources.”
This attitude is exactly the kind of productive way of thinking that can motivate the creation of community projects and programs that can make rapid change when the slower larger levels of macro-change are lagging behind.
In conclusion, because community work works with individuals, families, and couples, in the context of a larger community, it certainly has micro-practice dimensions. And yet, because it is also involved in change in these 6 domains of macro-practice, it has macro-practice dimensions as well.
As a result, I argue that although community practice is often marginalized in favour of clinical work by both Schools of Social Work and government organizations, this is a great mistake, because community practice has a centrally important role in offering the meso-bridge between micro and macro-work. As we work towards micro and macro change, therefore, sharpening our community practice skills and looking for community-level ways of making the changes we are aiming to see at the micro and macro levels offers a key piece of the puzzle of transformative social work.
Brueggemann, W. (2013). The practice of macro social work. New York:
Holt, S., Fawcett, S., Francisco, S., Schultz, J., Berkowitz, B. & Wolff, T.
(2017). The community tool box. Retrieved from https://ctb.ku.edu/
Wadud, E. (2016). Identifying opponents. The community tool box.
Retrieved from http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/advocacy/advocacy-principles/identify-opponents/main