SOCIAL WORK MACRO PRACTICE
Above is the title of the book on macro practice by F. Ellen Netting, Peter M. Kettner, and Steven L. McMurtry (N.Y: Longman, 1998, Second Edition). The following quotes are drawn from that work.
In my career as a social worker, I have always loved the one-to-one casework that I have done with children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. However, it was also very evident that our society was producing many of the problems with which I was helping people cope. Therefore, I decided to do whatever I could to reduce the pressures people experience by working to create a better world. I have returned and visited some of the communities where I have worked and found programs that I created still vibrantly alive and helping people live better lives. I urge all of you to dedicate at least some of your energies to macro practice.
"Macro practice is professionally guided intervention designed to bring about planned change in organizations and communities….Macro-level activities engage the practitioner in organizational, community, and policy areas….Macro activities go beyond individual interventions but are often based on needs, problems, issues, and concerns identified in the course of working one-on-one with clients" (p. 6).
"The nature of a capitalist economy is that some people are able to compete and to succeed while others are not. For the most part, social workers deal with those who are not able to care for at least a part of their own needs. It should be clear by this time that casework alone cannot address large-scale community problems. Social workers must also master the skills involved in organizing people who may want change and have good intentions but need coordination and direction….a practitioner has a number of options…as follows: (1) Burn out and leave…(2) Burn out and stay….(3) Develop tunnel vision…(4) Channel energies elsewhere….(5) Initiate change" (pp. 19-20).
Over the years I have never come close to burning out or leaving the profession of social work. One of the reasons for my survival being my commitment to macro practice. Therefore, for both your client's and your own sake, I recommend macro practice to all of you.
Basic Principles of macro Practice
1. Informed approach. "First, the macro practitioner approaches the need for change with an understanding and expectation that decisions will be based on as complete a set of data and information as time and resources allow" (p. 31). Although this is an important point, the reality is "time" and "resources" are usually very limited and this endangers the quality of the macro intervention. Fortunately, the following principles can be utilized to help overcome your own limitations. Also, keep in mind when planning macro interventions, that you can and often should start small….yes, macro-small interventions are often the best way to begin…and then you can build from there.
2. Consumer input and participation. "Although it may be more time consuming and take more energy to include clients in change processes, the social worker must always look for client input" (p. 31). The upside of this is that the client, if carefully selected, can provide a wealth of information and help you avoid numerous pitfalls.
3. Critical thinking. "Once the problem statement is agreed upon, social workers must ascertain that their interventions make sense in relation to the problem at hand. Interventions often require a creative imagination that goes beyond traditional approaches" (p. 31). This is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of macro practice. Creatively designing new and innovative programs and approaches is exciting and can make tremendous positive changes for clients. You need to think "outside the box" and brainstorm with others who are committed to creating a better agency.
4. Goal directedness. "Goals provide a vision shared by clients and colleagues---a hope of what can be---and they assist the practitioner in maintaining a focus" (p. 32).
5. Outcome orientation. "Much of the history of social work practice has been focused on process---what the social worker does. Interventions of the future will be driven by outcomes---what change is expected to be achieved by and for the target population as a result of this change effort" (p. 32).
Changing the Agency that Employs You
"A social worker in a human service agency may not only be tied to the organization as his/her source of income, but it may also be an agency that does not function well. Over time, organizations may stagnate, lose sight of their mission and goals, and begin to provide services that are unhelpful or even harmful to clients. This can occur because of inadequate resources, poor leadership, poor planning, inappropriate procedures or structures, or a combination of these factors. Social Workers in these agencies may have the option to leave, but doing so creates other dilemmas. We believe that professional social workers have an obligation to attempt to correct problems in their organizations for the benefit of both their clients and themselves. Just as agencies can lose a sense of mission and direction, so too can they regain it" (pp. 192-193).
I have worked for local, state, and federal governmental agencies. I have worked for private non-profit social work agencies. I have worked for colleges and universities. I have never worked for an agency that was not in need of substantial change. That is one of the key reasons that I became a director of social work agencies as it allowed me to make needed changes more readily. In order to understand why agencies are so
often malfunctioning is one of the key reasons that I went back to obtain my doctoral degree. One of the most rewarding areas for you to practice macro social work practice is in the agency that employs you. However, it is also one of the most dangerous areas for macro practice because often the people that are causing or sustaining problems within an organization are the very people that can have you fired!
The best way of proceeding under these circumstances is:
· Do your very best to understand and appreciate how the agency and its leaders usually did their very best to create a positive agency. Your empathy for them will help you avoid conflict and also give you insights into how best to proceed in your change effort.
· Start looking for another job! Even if you hope not to be fired, be prepared!
"Social workers should be open to the possibility that practices in many of the arenas in which they operate are well entrenched and that there will be a natural tendency to resist. The fact that agency missions are stated in inspiring words does not mean that all agencies carry out those missions. Practitioners must be aware that they are a part of legitimized systems that often contribute to the oppression experienced by the client group they are trying to serve" (p. 321).
"Change almost always involves influencing the allocation of scarce resources---authority, status, power, goods, services, or money" (p. 321). Those who control those scarce resources are very likely to resist any change effort that is seen by them as reducing their share of the resources. Therefore, one of the most effective strategies for you to follow is to:
· Identify who will be threatened.
· Develop a plan that will ensure that they are invested in the change….that they will see themselves maintaining or even gaining resources through the change. Ideally you want them to get the credit for the change.