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Community practice continues to expand world-wide; the article is updated to reflect current context and current literature. The examples of practice models provide updated and expanded material. The table is also updated.

Updated on 1 October 2013. The previous version of this content can be found here.
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Community: Practice Interventions

Abstract and Keywords

Major social changes resulting from globalization, the increase in multicultural societies, and growing concerns for human rights, especially for women and girls, will affect all community practice in this century. Community-practice processes—organizing, planning, sustainable development, and progressive social change—are challenged by these trends and the ethical dilemmas they pose. Eight distinct models of community-practice intervention are described with examples from around the globe. The values and ethics that ground community-practice interventions are drawn from international and national literature. Model applications are identified for work with groups, urban and rural communities, organizations and coalitions, and in advocacy and leadership for social justice and human rights.

Keywords: community development, community interventions, community organizing, community organization, community practice models, global practice, global social changes, human rights, macro practice, social justice, social work values, social work ethics


Although community residents have always worked collaboratively on common needs, the evolution of formal practice interventions for community work in the United States has its origins in the late 19th century. With the formalization of social work as a profession and community organization as a recognized method of social work, increasing numbers of professionals began working with communities. Social work that emerged from this focus on community issues is now called community practice. While a parallel development of the profession of social work was ongoing in many countries, we will refer primarily to the development of community practice in North America, but we will describe its application in a global context.


Several streams of engagement by early community researchers and practitioners were the antecedents of community-practice social work. The settlement-house and charity-organization-society movements formed the context for the development of social work as a profession, and, from its genesis, community practice has been an essential element (Abbott, 1937; Addams, 1902/1964, 1910; Garvin & Cox, 2001; McNutt, 2011). Both movements were adapted from British approaches. After spending the summer of 1877 studying the work of the Charity Organization Society (COS) in London, Stephen Gurteen returned to Buffalo, New York, to establish the first COS in America, focusing on systematically coordinating philanthropy and developing “scientific” charity services (Gurteen, 1882). Jane Addams, one of the founders of the Settlement Movement in the United States, visited and studied the work of the first settlement, Toynbee Hall in London, in 1881. After returning to Chicago, she and Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House in 1889, focusing initially on neighborhood services, community organizing, and group work with the area's many impoverished immigrant groups, and later expanding to social research, employment and labor issues, and social-policy development (Addams, 1930; Deegan, 1990). A third stream of community work in the United States was developed through rural extension workers to help communities build cooperative electric systems, water and irrigation systems, and schools and community centers (Austin & Betten 1990; Christenson & Robinson, 1989).

These three historical streams of community intervention form the primary background for the development of community-practice social work, sometimes referred to as community organization, and the variety of intervention methods that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s (Carter, 1958; Dunham, 1940; Lurie, 1959; Ross, 1955, 1958; Sieder, 1956). In addition to these major streams of community intervention, the historical context of a developing democracy provided opportunities for social movements such as the labor, women’s, and civil rights movements to explore and practice ways that people collectively organize collectively to seek reform for social problems (Betten & Austin, 1990; Brueggemann, 2013; Fisher, 1994).

Later trends in community practice have built upon social work developments as well as social movements, further elaborating theories, models of practice, and research methods. The Canadian scholar Murray Ross had a major role in defining professional social work roles in community organization and the development of theory-based literature. He envisioned community work in a range of environments, from education to agriculture to community development (Ross, 1955, 1958). Jack Rothman (1968) developed a construct of “Three Models of Community Organization,” which he called locality development, social planning, and social action. Rothman continued an elaboration of his conceptualization over time to illustrate the mixing and phasing of models in actual practice and to rename the three strategies planning and policy practice, community capacity development, and social advocacy (Rothman, 2008). Saul Alinsky introduced a style of organizing currently continuing through the Industrial Areas Foundation’s (IAF) grassroots work and leadership training, building a national network of multi-ethnic and interfaith community organizations (Alinsky, 1971; Betten & Austin, 1990; IAF, 2013). Current practice focuses on capacity building, organizing, and planning for a range of challenges that emerge at both the local and the global levels. These include continuing efforts to alleviate poverty and close the widening gap between wealthy and poor populations; migration and displacement of populations; human rights, especially for women and girls; and the need for sustainable development in the face of climate change, environmental disasters, toxic contaminants that can alter human development and other species, and food insecurity (Alzate, Andharia, Chowa, Weil, & Doernberg, 2013; Chaskin, 2013; Chowa, Masa, Sherraden, & Weil, 2013; Eade, 1997; Gamble & Hoff, 2013; Midgley & Conley, 2010; Weil, Reisch, & Ohmer, 2013b).

Community practice in the United States has also reflected the cultural contexts of different communities at different times in its history, especially relating to African American groups (Burwell, 1996; Carlton-LaNey, 2001; King, 1958), Native Americans (Bearse, 2011; LaDuke, 2005; St. Onge, 2013; Sides, 2006), Asian Americans (Balgopal, 2011; Rivera & Erlich, 1998), Hispanic communities, and labor organizations (La Raza, 2013; United Farm Workers, 2013).

Community-intervention methods continue to be refined through practice, research, and application of theory and cultural perspectives, most recently by Brown (2006), Gamble and Weil (2010); Gutierrez, Lewis, Dessel, and Spencer (2013); Hardina (2012); Homan (2011); Netting, Kettner, McMurtry, and Thomas (2011); Pyles (2009); and Rubin and Rubin (2007). The Handbook of Community Practice (Weil, Reisch, & Ohmer, 2013a), and the Journal of Community Practice sponsored by the Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA, 2013) provide extensive literature on community practice.

Weil and Gamble’s eight models of community practice presented here provide a structured comparison of community practice interventions. Models are useful in both teaching and practice settings because clarification of concepts, strategies for change, roles, and purposes can “increase insight into a problem and improve one’s ability to share that insight with others” (Robards & Gillespie, 2000, p. 563). These models provide a way for community practitioners to compare and analyze “ideal” intervention types for community-problem-solving approaches (Weber, 1970). The models have been refined and updated in this entry with the introduction, in Table 1, of three major practice “lenses” that will permeate community practice throughout the world in coming decades: the effects of globalization; the increase in multicultural societies as the result of forced and voluntary migrations; and the struggles to expand human rights, especially rights for women and girls.

Table 1 Models of Community Practice in 21st Century Contexts: Globalization, Increase of Multicultural Societies Worldwide, and Expansion of Rights for Women and Human Rights

Comparative characteristics

Neighborhood and community organizing

Organizing functional communities

Social, economic, and sustainable development

Inclusive Program development

Social Planning


Political and social action, and Policy Practice

Movements for progressive change

Desired outcome

Develop capacity of members to organize; direct and/or moderate the impact of regional planning and external development

Action for social justice focused on advocacy and on changing behaviors and attitudes; may also provide service

Promote grassroots plans; prepare citizens to use social and economic resources without harming environments; expand livelihood opportunities

Expansion, redirection and new development of programs to improve service effectiveness using participatory engagement methods

Neighborhood, citywide for act, or regional proposals ion by (a) neighborhood groups (b) elected body, and/or (c) planning councils and

social agencies

Build a multiorganizational power base to advocate for standards and programs, to influence program direction and draw down resources

Action for social justice focused on changing policies or policy makers

Action for social, economic, and environ mental justice that provides new paradigms for the healthy development of people and the planet

Systems targeted for change

Municipal/regional government; external developers; local leadership

General public; government institutions

Banks; foundations; external developers; laws that govern wealth creation

Financial donors; boards of directors; service providers; and organized beneficiaries of services

Perspectives of (a) neighborhood planning groups (b) elected leaders (c) human services leaders

Elected officials; foundations; government policy and service organizations

Voting public; elected officials; inactive/potential participants in public debates and elections

General public; political, social, and economic systems that are oppressive and destructive

Primary constituency

Residents of neighborhood, parish, rural community, village

Like-minded people in a community, region, nation, or across the globe

Low-wealth, marginalized, or oppressed population groups in a city or region

Agency board and administrators; community representatives

(a) neighborhood groups (b) elected leaders (c) social agencies and interagency organizations

Organizations and people that have a stake in the particular issue

Citizens in a particular political jurisdiction

Leaders, citizens, and organizations able to create new visions and just social and economic structures

Scope of concern

Quality of life in geographic area; increased ability of grassroots leaders and organizations to improve social, economic and environmental conditions

Advocacy for particular issue or population (examples: environmental protection; women’s participation in decision making)

Well-being investments (that is, income and assets, education, social support and health care); access to capital and “green” livelihoods; Employ equality, opportunity and responsibility to guide human behavior

Service development for specific populations (examples: children’s access to health care; security against domestic violence; elimination of exclusion because of difference)

(a) neighborhood level planning (b) integration of social, economic, and environ mental needs into public planning; (c) human services coordination

Organizational partners joining in a collaborative relationship to improve social, economic and environmental conditions and human rights

Building the level of participation in political activity; ensuring that elections are fair and not controlled by wealth

Social, economic and environmental justice within society (examples: basic human needs; basic human rights and freedoms; environmental protection and restoration)

Social work and community practice roles

Organizer Facilitator




Bridge Builder

Organizer Advocate




Bridge builder


Planner, Educator




Spokesperson Planner/evaluator


Proposal Writer


Bridge builder


Researcher Proposal writer





Mediator Negotiator



Bridge builder


Advocate Organizer




Advocate Facilitator


Source: Adapted from Gamble and Weil (2010).

How Social Work Has Contributed to Community Practice Interventions

Community-practice interventions within social work incorporate two important qualifications: practice within a value-base founded in social justice and human rights and the use of theory and outcome research to inform practice interventions (Ohmer, Sobeck, Teixeria, Wallace, & Shapiro, 2013; Reisch, Ife, & Weil, 2013; Weil & Ohmer, 2013). Working from within an identified value base and being able to benefit from a large body of literature, research, and practice knowledge are among the major contributions social work has made to community practice.

The social work values that guide community practice are articulated in the National Association of Social Work's (NASW) (1996/2008) Code of Ethics and the International Federation of Social Workers’ (IFSW) Ethics in Social Work: Statement of Principles adopted in 2004 (2013). Social workers are directed (in Section 6 of the NASW Code) toward “ethical responsibilities to the broader society,” and the promotion of “social, economic, political and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.”

Community-practice social workers make use of a wide range of literature in their education and practice from social work, social science, the humanities, health education, and environmental sciences, as well as indigenous and feminist knowledge and critical theory from related disciplines. Research relating to the outcomes of community-practice interventions is of particular importance (Ohmer & Korr, 2006; Ohmer et al., 2013; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008; Raheim, Noponen, & Alter, 2005).

Eight Models of Community Practice Intervention

Eight current models of community practice intervention are described below, including several refinements from their earlier presentations (see Table 1). For each model, we define the purpose, identify the theory and conceptual understandings that ground it, provide one intervention example, and discuss the primary roles played by practitioners working within the model. These eight models are more fully described in Community Practice Skills: Local to Global Perspectives (Gamble & Weil, 2010) and its accompanying workbook with teaching and learning exercises, Community Practice Skills Workbook: Local to Global Perspectives (Weil, Gamble, & MacGuire, 2010). The examples used here are brief and classic. Many more examples are provided in Community Practice Skills. Models are ideal types (Weber, 1970) that provide an opportunity to analyze the goals, actions, and outcomes that help the community practitioner compare purposes of the intervention and the roles and skills needed (for example, when facilitation is more effective than formal leadership, or when advocacy is more effective than negotiation). In practice settings, models are likely to be mixed or blended, and often, communities and practitioners will progress from one model type to another as the organization develops and local circumstances change.

Neighborhood and Community Organizing

This model relates to organizing that takes place in a geographic location where face-to-face encounters occur regularly as part of community interaction. The organizing effort has a triple focus: to develop and stimulate leadership and organizations, to strengthen the organizational capacity by improving leadership and organizational functioning, and to help organizations take successful actions toward the improvement of quality-of-life conditions and opportunities for their communities.

This intervention model is grounded in personal and interpersonal, group, empowerment, organizational, community, globalization, and social-change theories. The most useful concepts from these theory streams for intervention are related to group process, facilitation, dialogue and discourse, principles of democratic participation, power and empowerment, social capital, and collective efficacy (Bandura, 1986; Couto & Guthrie, 1999; DeFilippis, Fisher, & Shragge, 2010; Freire, 1970/1972; Gamble, 2013; Kaner, Lind, Toldi, Fisk, & Berger, 1996; Putnam, 2007; Rubin & Rubin, 2007; Toseland & Rivas, 2011; VeneKlasen & Miller, 2007).

Examples of neighborhood and community organizing are found in all parts of the world. In San Martin, Guatemala, World Neighbors' staff assisted Cakchiquel Indian communities in improving their yields of corn and beans by 300% in the first seven years of the project. They built upon local knowledge and experience (for example, indigenous knowledge of soil, climate, cultural preferences, local skills, and economic conditions), and then added external coaching (for example, methods to enrich soil, prevent erosion, and facilitating dialogue to build organizations in the Cakchiquel communities) in a process called “assisted self-reliance.” Through continued collaboration, the community members also established a lending cooperative, co-constructed earthquake-proof dwellings, and improved their overall nutrition and health outcomes (Krishna & Bunch, 1997).World Neighbors continues to do community organizing and development, primarily in rural communities, in 13 countries, building “local capacity with the goal of having local people lead their development process as early as possible—ideally, from the start” (Killough, 2013, p. 701).

The roles of community-practice workers in neighborhood and community organization are primarily those of organizer, facilitator, educator, coach, trainer, and bridge builder. The community-practice worker helps community members to become advocates for their communities and to take actions on their own behalf (Staples, 2004). In this kind of intervention the social worker is not the leader and takes care to develop and facilitate leadership within the community rather than usurp leadership positions.

Organizations and resources such as the Center for Participatory Change (2013), PICO National Network (2013), and the Community Tool Box at the University of Kansas (2013) can help in conceptualizing the work of neighborhood and community organizing.

Organizing Functional Communities

Functional communities, often referred to as communities of identity or interest, comprise people who have specific common interests but do not necessarily live in proximity. Their interests are in taking actions toward social-justice goals and expanding education and information about their issues to the wider public. These are people organizing, for example, to protect human rights, especially for groups that have been marginalized; to respond to the needs of children with developmental disabilities; to support people with HIV/AIDS; to prevent the trafficking of women and children for slavery and sexual exploitation; to establish services for homeless teens; or to eliminate land mines. Because they are not necessarily located in proximity to one another, newsletters, telephone, and Internet sources are their primary means of communication, augmented at times by conferences or direct opportunities to engage in action together.

This practice-intervention model is grounded in theories dealing with social change, groups and empowerment, organizational development, interorganizational work (for example, networks and coalitions), and communications. Necessary conceptual understandings include a deep understanding of the social-justice and human-rights aspects of the particular issue, strategies for advocacy (including education), campaigns for or against a particular issue, collaboration, contest, direct action, and knowledge of a variety of communication methods that will be culturally effective and inclusive (Brager, Specht, & Torczyner, 1987; Finn & Jacobson, 2008; Gutierrez & Lewis, 1998; Homan, 2011; Reisch et al., 2013; Rivera & Erlich, 1998; VeneKlasen & Miller, 2007; Weil et al., 2013a).

Practice examples are found in local and global settings. Functional community organizing brings people with similar interests together so that they may learn from one another, identify and create useful resources, work to change problematic policies or practices, and benefit from the emotional connection shared because of their common concerns. In many parts of the world, organizing occurs to identify families of children with special needs. Historically, people with disabilities were often shunned and institutionalized in the United States and other societies until the middle of the 20th century (Mackelprang, 2011). Fortunately many state, national, and international organizations have formed to advocate for people with disabilities. These organizations are the result of people with similar concerns coming together to promote the needs and interests of the disabled, often facilitated by social workers. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted, ensuring the rights of disabled people in most areas of society (Mackelprang, 2011). While concerns for people with disabilities still remain, organizations supporting the need to secure rights for people with disabilities have continued working on such problems as health care and adequate housing to allow for independent living. The outcome of organization by like-minded people across the planet led to the recognition of persons with disabilities by the United Nations in 1992, and the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in 2008 with an emphasis on inclusion and accessibility (United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 2012). The UN planned to hold discussions in September 2013, in order to incorporate the contributions, rights, and concerns of people with disabilities into the development agenda that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals, with a targeted ending date of 2015 (United Nations Millennium Development Goals, 2013).

The roles that are most important for social workers to assume in order to work with functional communities are organizer, advocate, writer, speaker, and facilitator. As advocates, social workers are always careful to represent appropriately the views of those who will benefit from the organizing effort, and they strive to incorporate, without exploitation, the voices of people who directly experience the condition needing to be changed.

Community Social, Economic, and Sustainable Development

The United Nations' (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the conditions for an adequate livelihood: “. . . the right to work . . . free choice of employment . . . right to equal pay . . . a family existence worthy of human dignity . . . right to join trade unions . . . right to rest and leisure . . standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of self and family . . . education . . . and right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community” (Articles 23–27). This model relates to community interventions that stimulate the development of income, assets, community economic structures and opportunities, basic and continuing education, and social support. We speak of livelihoods, rather than work or jobs, because all communities gain from both the paid and unpaid work of their members, and all families thrive primarily because of the nurturing and caring labor provided by its members for one another. The addition of “sustainable development” in this model recognizes the impact of the natural environment on a community's livelihood and the challenges future generations will encounter for livelihood development as climate change results in migrations, violent storms, and food scarcity. Having depleted extensive nonrenewable resources and fouled the soil, water, and air, we now need to rethink personal and global behaviors, policies, and investments to rescue and sustain the planet and its inhabitants (Gamble & Hoff, 2013; Gore, 2006; Lingam, 2013).

Theory streams and knowledge that inform this model are from recent human-development perspectives, especially the writings of Sen (1999) and Nussbaum (2011) on the role of capabilities and freedom as necessary aspects of human development, social and economic development (Murphy & Cunningham, 2003), sustainable development, poverty alleviation, social capital, environmental reclamation, and adult education. Necessary conceptual understandings include the Human Development Index (United Nations Development Program [UNDP], 2011), the role of gender in development outcomes, opportunities for “green” livelihoods (for example, environmentally efficient construction, local farmers markets, seed preservation and trading, recycling), sustainable community indicators, and networking and mutual learning opportunities (Ellerman, 2006; Estes, 1993; Haq, 1995; Hart, 1999; Hawken, 2007; Midgley & Livermore, 2005; Prigoff, 2000; Shiva, 2005,2008; Uphoff, Esman, & Krishna, 1998).

A useful conceptual representation of how to think about community sustainable development was prepared by Oxfam International for discussion at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Development and the Environment held in June 2012 (Raworth, 2012). Oxfam proposed that development efforts must work toward the eradication of poverty by ensuring food, water, health care, and energy for all people, while at the same time protecting the biosphere from further climate change or biodiversity loss. This means living and working within “planetary boundaries” and creating a “safe and just space for humanity” within social boundaries (Raworth, 2012, p. 4).

Practice examples for social, economic, and sustainable development tend to be geographically local, but they must be connected to regional markets, support systems, education and training opportunities, and bioregional resources. One example is the Farm to Table nonprofit that was organized in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2001. Farm to Table started as an organization to support local small farmers by developing a successful and well-functioning farmer’s market. The organization expanded its mission and now works in three broad areas:

  1. 1. Facilitating a food and agricultural policy council that brings together people from “health, social services, agriculture and [the] environment” to support programs and policies that strengthen health, agriculture and local economies.

  2. 2. Linking fresh food from farmers with school cafeterias for meals and snacks as well as initiating school gardens and healthy eating through special projects and classroom lessons.

  3. 3. Engaging farmers and ranchers in the Southwest Marketing Network (SWMN), which links the Four Corners states (New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona), as well as Native Americans in the Tribal Lands, to support the economic viability of those small producers through “business management tools, marketing strategies, technical and financial assistance, crop insurance information, and peer examples” (Farm to Table New Mexico, 2013).

In addition to these projects, the organizers foresee having to devote more time to securing water resources because of expected drought conditions threatening the Southwest of the United States as the result of climate change. The wiser use of scarce water resources as well as the conservation of watersheds will be important work for all communities.

The roles useful to a community social worker in this model include negotiator, bridge builder, promoter, planner, educator, manager, and evaluator. The social- and economic-development plan for a place will be most successful if local participants are involved from the beginning to assess needs and resources, and to identify goals (Pennell, Noponen, & Weil, 2005). The most useful participatory engagement methods come from popular education (Freire, 1970/1972) and participatory appraisal (Chambers, 1997), described by Gamble (2013).

Inclusive Program Development

This model involves the initiation or expansion of services by an agency, community-based organization, or coalition of organizations to respond to underserved populations. It would address issues such as the increase, in the early 21st century, in homeless teens and street children; HIV/AIDS survivors and their families’ under- and unemployment; and food-security issues. This model involves collaboration between social workers and allies with the engagement of the community, especially potential participants, in the re-invention of services to meet existing and emerging needs, including advocacy for prevention and public education (Gamble & Weil, 2010; Motes & Hess, 2007; Weil, 2013).

Theory that informs this intervention model is drawn from organizational development and management, mutual work with clients and communities, strategic planning, program design and development, social justice, and health and human development (Netting et al., 2011; Weil, 2013). Conceptual understanding important for social workers in this model will relate to community assessments, community-based participatory research, organizational development, and resource generation (Austin, 2002; Brody, 1993; Brodkin, 2013; Finn & Jacobson, 2008; Israel, Shulz, Parker, & Becker, 1998; Mizrahi, Rosenthal, & Ivery, 2013; Netting & O’Connor, 2013).

One practice example, from southeastern Missouri, started with a clinical visit from a social worker to a woman who suffered depression after losing her baby. The visit developed into a full-scale organizing effort to respond to rural women's mental health needs (Price, 2005). In most communities, but especially in rural communities, people are supposed to be independent, strong, and never acknowledge the need for help, especially for mental health issues. As the social worker explored women's needs, local women were reluctant to identify and name their feelings as “depression.” With facilitated discussion to explore how life could be better with certain changes, women were able to define their own mental health needs. Collaborating with the social worker, they developed a public-education campaign called “Mental Health Is Part of Every Woman's Wellness.” The campaign not only brought needed services for women, it also transformed the region's perspective about mental health (Price, 2005). Expanding the services provided by mental health centers to reach new populations such as these rural women, military men and women returning from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and people who have lost their jobs after economic crises are aspects of the work of inclusive program development. Identifying these new populations requires a recognition that the people themselves will be most helpful in framing the kind of services and programs from which they can benefit. Weil (2013) offers detailed planning steps for situations in which a recognized need is not being met because of inadequate resources or services. Drawing from a number of national and international sources, she includes participatory steps to gather maximum input from the people who will be served by the expanded program.

Social workers in this model are expected to engage in a variety of roles, including spokesperson, planner, manager/director, proposal writer, trainer, evaluator, visionary, and boundary spanner. In addition to having significant knowledge of the program area and service organization/network characteristics (for example, missions, funding streams, policy strengths and limitations, leadership strength), the community practitioner must also develop respectful and co-learner relationships with constituent population groups. It is especially important not to treat the constituent groups as victims or passive bystanders. When constituent or beneficiary groups are engaged in service planning—and, later, implementation, advising, and evaluation—the resulting service program has a much greater chance of actually meeting the service needs and empowering participants (Gamble & Weil, 2010).

Social Planning

Planning requires forward-looking assessments of population characteristics and needs with an analysis of the resources and structures necessary to respond to those needs (Friedmann, 2011; Jones, 1990). Social planning is often done within a communitywide or regional social planning organization, but it can also occur within an agency or neighborhood, or at a national or international level (Sager & Weil, 2013; Wates, 2000; Weil, 2013). “Social” planning cannot effectively occur in isolation, as it is related to economic and environmental conditions, as well as available infrastructure and resources (Gamble & Weil, 2010). Planning involves the use of technical skills for assessment, data analysis, optimal future scenario development, and evaluation.

At the neighborhood or community level, community practitioners engage with community members to learn their perspective on neighborhood conditions, needs, assets, and directions. They share technical skills with community members and coach them in carrying out assessments, analyses, and community-based planning decisions (Weil, 2013).

Social planning is grounded in planning and change theory, as well as theories relating to human development, participatory planning, and research (Guyette, 1996; Hinsdale, Lewis, & Waller, 1995; Kahn, 1969; Kitchen, 2006; Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; UNDP, 2011; Weil, 2013).

In northwestern North Carolina, an MSW student working for Hospice noted that an increasing number of the hospice referrals were gay men who had earlier escaped local stigma regarding their sexual orientation and found broader work opportunities by relocating to large cities. After years in the Northeast or Midwest, they were returning home to die. Hospice responded to AIDS patients and their families by helping them to die with dignity. By the early 1990s, more effective treatments were available, enabling people with HIV/AIDS to live much longer with productive lives, but local physicians were still referring all patients living with HIV/AIDS to Hospice. The student realized that this was not the service these men needed and that new service planning was necessary. He gathered men living with HIV/AIDS, hospital and health care providers, human-services staff, and representative citizen groups to talk about the kind of support that was desirable in this new reality. A coalition formed to complete needs assessments, with the interviews conducted by people with HIV/AIDS. This process uncovered a far larger population needing support services than was previously recognized. The coalition undertook planning with the constituent group and presented its proposals to local governments and nonprofit donors. With funding, they opened a new Support Service Center for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families (Weil, 2005, pp. 235–236).

Community practitioners working in the planning model can be expected to engage in roles relating to research (assessments, evaluations, etc.), proposal writing, communication, planning, managing, and evaluating (Sager & Weil, 2013). The National Network of Planning Councils provides examples of social planning at city and regional levels. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are increasingly used in social planning and have provided a technology that planners can share with community members. GIS programs can overlay a range of services, programs, and data about schools and other civic institutions. It provides ways of identifying the assets in communities as well as indicating demographic data and overlapping programs. GIS, whether web-based or desktop applications, can provide massive information for planning and analyzing tasks performed by community-practice planners (Hillier & Culhane, 2013) Social workers are also involved in many national social-planning efforts related to health services and prevention, domestic violence, child welfare, and mental health, among others.


This model brings together organizations that have a common interest in a social, civic, economic, environmental, or political concerns on a temporary or longer-term basis for the purpose of building a power base large enough to influence policy decisions, change conditions, and secure needed resources. Coalitions' actions usually include a major public-education campaign to enlarge their ranks and educate the public. Building a coalition requires attention to relationships among the organizations, the relative commitment of each organization, the comparative competence and resources of each organization, and their respective contributions toward the effort (Mizrahi & Rosenthal, 2001; Mizrahi et al., 2012).

Theories that inform this work include coalitions, interorganizational relations, collaboration, social change, social movements, power, and empowerment (Alter, 2011; Bailey & Koney, 2000; Bayne-Smith, Mizrahi, & Garcia, 2008; Jones, Cook, & Webb, 2007; Mattessich, Murray-Close, & Monsey, 2001). Social workers help build coalitions for social justice and human rights, and therefore, conceptual understanding of these value bases will be important to this work (Cohen, de la Vega, & Watson, 2001; Finn & Jacobson, 2008; Roberts-DeGennaro & Mizrahi, 2005).

While it is sometimes easier to develop and maintain a coalition in which values, perspectives on needed changes, and strategies are shared, it is also possible for coalitions to be built within small communities, bringing together geographically close but ideologically distant organizations to accomplish important social change, such as bringing ranchers, hunters, and environmentalists together to protect land and water resources. Coalitions can also span the globe, such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN, 2013), which began a campaign in 1997 and continues today to limit aggressive marketing of commercial infant formula in place of breast milk. The campaign was initiated after health research demonstrated an increase in mortality rates for babies in low-wealth neighborhoods and countries born to mothers who used only infant formula. In 2013, IBFAN coordinated more than 200 citizen groups in 95 countries that monitor the advertising of breast milk substitutes.

Although there has long been concern about gun violence in the United States and the numbers and types of guns available to residents, the December 2012 shooting of 20 elementary school children and their six teachers created new interest in efforts to curtail gun violence. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence coordinates the efforts of 47 national organizations from public health, social services, social justice, religion, and child welfare to lobby for policies that they believe will reduce morbidity and mortality from the use of a gun (Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, 2013). The organization supports policies that will require a background check for all gun purchases, control assault weapons, and stamp serial numbers on all shell casings for identification purposes. Community-practice workers and public health organizers have come together in some communities to build coalitions that will diminish gun violence. In 2000, the National Association of Social Workers joined in a campaign to end gun violence, a campaign that involved social work students across the country (NASW, 2000).

In 1977, the U.S. group Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFAC) started a campaign to boycott the Swiss manufacturer of the infant formula, Nestlé. The campaign was based on research in low-wealth neighborhoods and countries, which showed higher mortality among infants using commercial formula in place of breast milk. Use of contaminated water and dilution of the formula to stretch the supply contributed to the higher mortality. In addition, unlike mother’s milk, the formula did not contain antibodies to help build babies’ immune systems to resist certain illnesses. Advertising of infant formula in hospitals and health clinics made mothers feel they were depriving their child of modern—even scientific—benefits if they did not use the formula. The boycott of Nestlé’s products and the public-education campaign spread across the globe. The coalition was instrumental in persuading the World Health Assembly to adopt, in 1981, the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes, which prohibits certain kinds of advertising and aggressive marketing. IBFAN in England in 2013 coordinated more than 200 citizens’ groups in 95 countries that monitor the actions of Nestlé/Carnation and other infant-formula corporations to prevent free samples and inappropriate advertising from taking place in health clinics. The boycott was dropped for a period of time to monitor corporate responsibility, but it was resumed in 1988 when monitors found that companies were not complying.

Coalitions require a number of roles to be played by involved community-practice workers (Ray, 2002; Roberts, 2004). Important roles include leader, mediator, negotiator, spokesperson, organizer, and bridge builder. Understanding interorganizational behavior theory, strategies for social change, and employing empowerment principles in organization building all relate to effective practice for workers in this model (Jaskyte & Lee, 2006).

Political and Social Action

This model is focused on taking action for social justice by changing policies, laws, and policy makers. It involves research that identifies and exposes social, economic, and environmental injustice, and follows with efforts to engage in lobbying, class-action lawsuits, testimony, advocacy, and political campaigns to change oppressive and damaging policies and institutions (Hoefer, 2011; Jansson, 2013). Political and social action has a long tradition in social work. When Jane Addams found garbage a foot thick over the cobblestones in the 1890 Chicago slum neighborhoods, she lobbied for more regular garbage pick-up. When lobbying failed to achieve the needed results that she and her neighbors had identified, she campaigned to be appointed garbage inspector—and won. From that position, she was able to monitor and influence more effective garbage collection (Addams, 1910).

Theories that support this model are derived from power and empowerment theory, political economy, participatory democracy, and social-change theory (Mondros, 2013; Schneider & Lester, 2001). Conceptual understandings for this model relate to human rights, social justice, strategy development, professional ethics, and advocacy (Couto & Guthrie, 1999; Hick & McNutt, 2002; Haynes & Mickelson, 2009; IFSW, 2004/2013; Jansson, Heidemann, McCroskey, & Fertig, 2013; Reisch, 2013; United Nations, 1948; VeneKlasen & Miller, 2007).

Examples of this model can be identified in local settings across the globe, and they can be seen in actions that may have global consequences when successful. In the US. civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, a variety of methods were used to change laws that permitted, and even enforced, discrimination against African Americans. Direct, nonviolent action was the most widely used strategy to demonstrate the inhumanity of the existing laws and practices (Anderson, 1995). In Greensboro, North Carolina, students organized a sit-in at a lunch counter where they were customarily denied service. With their success in integrating Woolworth's, they sparked actions in other parts of the country to dismantle segregation laws. In Montgomery, Alabama, after the arrest of Rosa Parks for declining to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, African Americans refused to ride city buses as long as they were prevented from selecting a seat anywhere on the bus. The bus boycott, which involved organizing churches, student groups, and civic groups, lasted more than a year, causing enormous economic harm to the bus system and forcing an eventual settlement. The Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee, began “literacy schools” for African Americans to overcome the “voting tests” imposed by many southern states. The African American Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party tried to be seated at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, resulting in a major national controversy. Though it was unsuccessful in being seated, the world was made aware of the policies that kept African Americans from voting and becoming candidates for office. In that same year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress to strengthen voting rights and prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in any program receiving funds from the federal government; additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to make sure that people’s rights were not denied in work situations. In 1993, social workers were actively involved in passage of the Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter Act, which facilitated the registration of people to vote when they applied for a drivers license or for social services (U.S. Department of Justice, 2013).

Since 2010, Republican-dominated state legislatures have tried, and in some cases succeeded, to pass laws restricting voting rights by requiring voter identification cards with photos, by decreasing the number of days voters have to vote prior to election day, and by making it more difficult for working people to become registered to vote (Brennen Center for Justice, 2011). The directive to social workers in this regard seems clear from the NASW’s Code of Ethics, 6. 04, “Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, or mental or physical disability” (NASW, 2008). In 2011, members of Congress who were social workers, friends of social work, or supporters of the clients who are served by social workers formed a Social Work Caucus led by Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY). After Towns’ retirement in 2013, Barbara Lee (D-CA) assumed the chairmanship. The Caucus, 60 members strong in 2013, brings social work issues to the front burner with briefings on legislation that can help social workers improve their ability to serve clients (Congressional Social Work Caucus, 2013).

The important roles for social workers engaged in political and social action are advocate, organizer, researcher, leader, and sometimes, candidate (Haynes & Mickelson, 2009; Mondros, 2013; Myers & Granstaff, 2011; Schneider, Lester, & Ochieng, 2011). In 2012, there were seven former social workers serving in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate (Manning, 2011). In 2013, more than150 members of NASW served in state and local elected positions (NASW, 2012).

Movements for Progressive Change

This model includes activities to influence major social change toward measurable improvements of quality of life for vulnerable groups and individuals (Humphries, 2008). While social movements can have goals to prevent positive change for these groups, our model is grounded in action toward progressive change that will increase opportunities, human rights, and social justice in accordance with social work values (Reisch et al., 2013).

Theories that ground this model are drawn from social-change, social-movement, social-transformation, and collective-action theory (Gil, 1998; Reisch, 2013). Conceptual understandings that are useful to social workers involved in social-movement activity relate to ethical practice, collective efficacy, leadership, coalition building, gender issues, and a range of strategies for social change (Anderson, 1995; Bandura, 1986; IFSW, 2004/2013; Meyer & Staggenborg, 1996; NASW, 2008; Piven & Cloward, 1977; Reisch, 2011).

An example of a current movement that presents opportunities for social work involvement is the range of local-to-global interventions taking place to promote sustainable development. Estes (1993) describes nine related movements as the historical antecedents for sustainable development: environmental/ecological, antiwar/antinuclear, world order, world dynamics modeling, green, alternative economics, women's movement, indigenous peoples, and human rights (pp. 7–8). All of these local-to-global movements, which began in the 1960s and continue to the present, have converged into what Estes (1993) describes as “successfully uniting widely divergent theoretical and ideological perspectives into a single conceptual framework” (p. 1). For Estes (1993), Richard Falk's (1972) seven values provide a set of principles that encompass sustainable development: “unity of humanity and life on earth, the minimization of violence, the maintenance of environmental quality, the satisfaction of minimum world welfare standards, the primacy of human dignity, the retention of diversity and pluralism, and universal participation” (p. 12). It is a movement that has drawn social-justice, human-rights, and environmental-justice champions from around the globe (Gore, 2006; Hawken, 2007; LaDuke, 2005; Peeters, 2012; Shiva, 2005, 2008). This movement offers seven levels of intervention for social work engagement, beginning with “individual and group empowerment” through processes of conscientization, all the way to “world building,” by creating new social, political, economic, and environmental institutions (Estes, 1993, pp. 16–17; Gamble & Hoff, 2013, pp. 223–224). Weil (2013) describes the merging of alternative, sustainable, and human-development perspectives into a model for development focusing on social transformation. The World Social Forum, the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignants, and the Occupy movements that emerged in the first two decades of the 21st century may well be examples of the social-transformation perspective, because they often combine concerns for economic fairness, indigenous people’s rights, environmental recovery and protection, basic human needs, and human rights and freedoms, especially for women and girls.

The 2008 financial crisis that caused economic crises for the most vulnerable populations all across the globe was in part the impetus for the “Occupy” movement that started in Zuccotti Park, in the Wall Street area, in New York City in September 2011. By October of the same year, “occupy” demonstrations had occurred in more than 600 cities and towns across the United States and in 80 countries (The Guardian, 2012; Occupy, 2013). While the goals of the Occupy movement were not always explicit, its activists identified with concerns about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States and across the globe. The movement’s slogan became “We are the 99%”, identifying with the majority of the world’s population that controls the fewest assets and has the least power (Occupy, 2013; Stiglitz, 2012).

Social workers provided more leadership for social movement in the past, but social movements continue to provide stimulation for social work engagement (Reisch, 2013). Among the many social workers providing leadership for the civil rights movement were Whitney Young, who was president of NASW in 1966, and Dorothy Height, who was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. Social workers, including the authors, were also involved with the Welfare Rights Movement in the 1960s and early ’70s (Piven & Cloward, 1977). The roles social workers in social movements play on many different levels can be those of advocate, facilitator, and leader. Whether society is engaged in a movement for civil rights, women’s rights, children’s safety, food security, elimination of sexual and child-labor trafficking, or environmental responsibility and preservation, we can benefit from the growing body of interdisciplinary research and documentation to help move the communities in which we find ourselves toward progressive social change.

Contexts and Challenges for Community-Practice Interventions

The effects of globalization, the increase in multicultural societies as the result of forced and voluntary migration, and the struggles to expand human rights, especially rights for women and girls, are challenging community-practice-intervention processes—organizing, planning, sustainable development, and progressive change—in the 21st century.

Governments make decisions about global trade regulations, development assistance, and wars. Corporate and financial institutions extract resources and create massive, complex financial arrangements that have disastrous results when they collapse. New trade rules provide temporary economic benefits for some communities and eliminate livelihoods in others. The increasing frequency of natural disasters (for example, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis) that may be the result of global warming plagues the most vulnerable populations on the planet. Civil and state-sponsored wars and cross-border incursions ravage communities, even after hostilities cease (Van Soest, 1997). Peace making has a body of knowledge easily accessible to proponents of peaceful strategies for resolving local, regional, national, and global conflicts, but its use requires willing leaders and facilitators (Elkins, 2006; McConnell & van Gelder, 2003; Moix, Smith, & Staab, 2004).

Communities are increasingly multicultural as population migration makes nearly every country and every community a host to people from different cultures and ethnicities (UNHCR, 2013). Refugees often flee their homelands because of ethnic conflicts, natural disasters, and political oppression, and millions of people are displaced within their own countries (Cox and Pawar, 2012). Numerous migrants also travel to other countries for basic economic survival. Immigrants from Mexico to the United States, for example, send approximately $13.3 billion in remittances annually to their often-destitute families and communities of origin. Social workers can work to change the conditions that force migration and can also engage in working toward integration, mutual understanding, and inclusion by facilitating dialogue among different groups and promoting inclusive economic and social development (Anderson and Carter, 2003; Dessel, Rogge, & Garlington, 2006; Fong and Furuto, 2001; Gutierrez et al., 2013).

Human rights are a primary concern of social work, as outlined in the IFSW (2004/2013), and in seven international human-rights declarations and conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and The Convention on the Rights of the Child. The framers of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agreed that gender equality is a central focus because “women are agents of development” (UNDP, 2003, p. 7; United Nations, 2011). Securing rights for women and girls is a major international challenge, as evidenced by the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) (UNDP, 2003, pp. 314–317), and the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2012).

The values and behaviors of community practitioners who engage in organizing, planning, sustainable development, and progressive change will determine their ability to be co-learners with members of the communities in which they work. Co-learning involves setting aside assumptions about the people with whom you are working and their environments so that one can learn from their perspectives (in their words) and through their experiences. Working with community members and organizations in this way becomes a collaborative engagement. This process is described by Finn and Jacobson as “action and accompaniment,” a rethinking of the roles of social work as “always carried out in the context of social relationships” (1948, pp. 313–375).

Working within an ethical framework requires community-practice social workers to evaluate their actions and interventions daily. Along with specific change goals, practitioners should seek to measure advances in human rights, increased social capital that results in open and inclusive community structures, increased economic opportunity and well-being, and recovered and protected environments. Community-participant involvement in reflection on community outcomes should also be a consistent aspect of community practice evaluation.


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Further Reading

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Addams, J. (1907). Newer ideals of peace. Syracuse, NY: The Mason-Henry Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Addams, J. (1945). Peace and bread in time of war (1915–1945 anniversary ed.). New York: King’s Crown Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA). (2013). Retrieved July, 2013, from

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Axinn, J., & Stern, M. J. (2000). Social welfare: A history of the American response to need (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Biklen, D. P. (1983). Community organizing theory and practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Brueggemann, W. G. (2006). The practice of macro social work (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Learning, Brooks Cole.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Elliott, D., & Mayadas, N. S. (1996). Social development and clinical practice in social work. Journal of Applied Social Sciences, 21(1), 61–68.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Elshtain, J. B. (Ed.). (2002). The Jane Addams reader. New York: Basic Books.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Hardcastle, D. A., Powers, P. R., & Wenocur, S. (2004). Community practice: Theories and skills for social workers (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Highlander Center. (2013). Highlander Research and Education Center. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Hoff, M. (Ed.). (1998). Sustainable community development: Studies in economic, environmental and cultural revitalization. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            International Federation of Social Work (IFSW). (2006). International policy statement on globalization and the environment. Retrieved May 11, 2013, from

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Lauffer, A. (2013). Fundraising and community practice: A stakeholder model. In M. Weil, M. Reisch, & M. L. Ohmer (Eds.). The handbook of community practice (2nd ed., pp. 773–788). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Sytz, F. (1960). Jane Addams and social action. Social Work, 5(4), 62–67.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Taylor, S. H., & Roberts, R. W. (Eds.). (1985). Theory and practice of community social work. New York: Columbia University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Weil, M. (1996). Model development in community practice: An historical perspective. In M. Weil (Ed.), Community practice: Conceptual models (pp. 5–67). New York: The Haworth Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Weil, M. (2000). Social work in the social environment: Integrated practice—an empowerment/structural approach. In P. Allen-Meares & C. Garvin (Eds.), Handbook of social work direct practice (pp. 373–410). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). (1987). Our common future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Find this resource: