As the profession of social work becomes increasingly specialized and focused on clinical practices that help individuals and groups, two faculty members at the USC School of Social Work are hoping to bring renewed attention and energy to a wider perspective of the field.
A new book written by Clinical Professor Murali Nair and Assistant Professor Erick Guerrero seeks to increase understanding of the higher-level forces that affect social work practice and impart proven strategies that help professionals work closely with communities, agencies and other complex entities.
“There so many books on evidence-based practice in clinical settings, working one-on-one or with families and groups,” Nair said. “When it comes to communities and organizations, this is the first book on evidence-based practice.”
Evidence Based Macro Practice in Social Work features techniques and interventions focused on community organizing, planning and management, coupled with real-world case studies to illustrate those various approaches.
Guerrero said evidence-based strategies at the macro level are receiving too little attention despite their proven ability to improve the well-being of vulnerable populations. For example, community interventions such as voucher programs to ensure equal housing opportunities have been quite successful.
“There are some elegant and rigorous methods and robust findings that there is evidentiary support for vouchers to improve the health and housing conditions for low-income individuals,” he said.
Other management and organizational practices also deserve wider dissemination, Guerrero said, citing as an example the challenge faced by social service agencies to organize their activities using a systematic and data-driven approach.
“They get so caught up with the day-to-day activities and are often in panic mode,” he said. “If they organize their activities in the sense that they collect data, set goals and systematically evaluate how they are performing in relation to client outcomes, they are able to improve decision-making, make successful changes and become true to their mission.”
The book discusses specific topics, such as understanding organizational culture and climate, empowering clients to advocate on their own behalf, and forming a consensus and involving individuals in decision-making.
Emphasizing systematic and evidence-based approaches to these sorts of activities is critical for the profession of social work, which Nair said has been historically viewed as more of an art than a science.
“Our discipline is still in an infant stage,” he said. “It started only 110 years ago. Social work needs to build up its scientific basis to gain respect and attention.”
The authors said they tailored the book toward graduate students who are studying how to work with organizations, communities and neighborhood groups. The book’s case studies, drawn from Nair’s decades of experience as an educator, are designed to draw in readers with vivid storytelling.
“We intentionally wrote this book with accessible language to be able to get at the first-year students who want to understand these concepts and theories and who can see themselves working at a social service agency and enacting some of these practices,” Guerrero said.
Rino Patti, professor emeritus and former dean of the USC School of Social Work, said the book fills a significant need in the field for a framework that outlines the basic theoretical and practical approach of macro social work.
“In the end, this book is about practice, and the authors have done a commendable job of identifying empirical evidence that supports the efficacy of the strategies and interventions presented,” he said in a review of the book. “There is as well a rich collection of cases that illustrate effective practice in diverse settings and international contexts.”
The two authors said they each brought complementary knowledge and skills to the book, which is available from Gregory Publishing and USC Bookstores.
Nair, a senior Fulbright scholar and co-chair of the school’s Community Organization, Planning, and Administration concentration, emphasized his extensive expertise in management approaches. Guerrero, co-founding director of the school’s Management, Organization, and Policy Transformation research cluster, has a strong understanding of the latest research on macro social work practice in the 21st century.