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date: 25 March 2023

The Special Commission to Advance Macro Practicefree

The Special Commission to Advance Macro Practicefree

  • Darlyne Bailey, Darlyne BaileyBryn Mawr College
  • Terry MizrahiTerry MizrahiHunter College, City University of New York
  •  and Jenay SmithJenay SmithBryn Mawr College


The original goal of the Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work was to increase macro social work courses and enrollments in master of social work programs to 20% nationally by 2020. Some saw this as more of a vision, with the numbers in 2013 closer to 8%. Nonetheless, through partnerships with other organizations, forming collaborations and networks, and joining advocacy coalitions, the Special Commission continues to move forward to achieve this goal. The essence of the Special Commission’s purpose remains the same: to monitor and reinforce the viability of macro social work education in professional schools and programs to ensure the most effective social work practice for all served.

This article provides the story of the Special Commission from inception through early 2022. It begins with the history (i.e., mission, leadership, structure, staffing, systems, and strategy), highlights accomplishments to date, and concludes with the envisioned future directions of the Special Commission along with anticipated challenges and opportunities. A case example in the appendix describes the process by which the Special Commission engaged its allies and supporters to complete major projects.


  • Macro Practice


Since the early beginnings of macro practice in the United States with the charity organization societies and the settlement house movement (Trattner, 1998) social work in the United States has experienced a vacillation between an emphasis on macro and micro/clinical education in U.S. schools, most often associated with the prevailing national sociopolitical environment (Austin et al., 2016). However, in the later decades of the 20th century, social work curricula and the public’s perception of social work shifted almost solely to the care of individuals and their families (Ezell & Healy, 2004) or what critics have called the “clinicalization” of the profession. Over this time, many social work educators and agency leaders reported a decline in the number of social work students choosing to pursue macro courses and career tracks. In spite of its important historical significance and the continuous need for systemic changes in policies, programs, and practice, fewer students were learning about the dynamic interrelationships and interdependencies among individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities, and the policies hoped to well serve them all.

Moreover, effective clinicians have traditionally been promoted to supervisory and upper management positions without formal education about these roles and responsibilities, requiring information informally, for example on the job and through career magazines (Clark & Corbett, 2018; Perlmutter & Crook, 2004). In turn, this seeming trend became a major reason to eliminate or reduce macro specializations and curricula by many master of social work (MSW) programs in the United States and in other countries (Segal-Engelchin et al., 2017). Not surprisingly, by not marketing or offering an MSW program that featured macro curricula and specializations, potential students would not know that they could pursue this area of social work practice (Rothman & Mizrahi, 2014). Beginning in the 1980s, an increasing number of states began to license graduate social workers primarily at the clinical level. This phenomenon further minimized those interested in pursuing a macro career (Donaldson et al., 2014). Politically, it was the presidential era of Reagan, who expressed a disdain for social entitlements and the profession that extolled them (social workers among others). Additionally, many social work graduates who gravitated toward macro careers took positions with titles such as program coordinator or policy analyst, which were not identified as social work or did not require a social work degree, further isolating them from their professional identity.

Moreover, despite the advent of the journal Social Work Administration in 1976 and its continued publication today currently titled Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, this combination of factors resulted in the professional education association, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), becoming increasingly directed toward micro/clinical practice, resulting in the minimization of community development and social policy at CSWE Annual Program Meetings. In response to this direction and after a series of planning meetings, papers, surveys, and national symposia, in March 1987 bylaws were proposed and a steering committee formed to establish the national Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA), whose name was changed to the Association for Community Organization and Social Action in 2018.

In 2010, ACOSA conducted an analysis of the CSWE’s 2008 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) and determined that CSWE did not sufficiently explain or explicitly identify the macro end of “practice.” In response, ACOSA undertook a year-long process to develop a set of macro-practice competencies, behaviors, and curricular resources using the 2008 EPAS and published them in the Journal of Community Practice in 2011 and in the Encyclopedia of Social Work in 2013 (Gamble & Soska, 2013). Likewise, the Network of Social Work Management, founded in the same era (Austin, 2018), began its own exploration of competencies for those in management positions within human service agencies in the late 1990s (Wimpfheimer et al., 2018).

In 2012, Professor Jack Rothman with Dr. Tracy Soska conducted a survey of ACOSA members and faculty of CSWE-recognized macro programs in schools of social work. Results from this survey identified the marginalization of macro faculty, curricula, and field placements. Rothman subsequently issued a report that identified this declining influence of macro practice in social work education as a threat to the professional practice and strongly recommended that macro and micro/clinical practice work together for the advancement of social work (Rothman, 2013). In what has come to be known as “The Rothman Report,” it spoke to the urgency of a strategy that would provide a greater presence and awareness of macro issues by increasing the macro curricula and recruiting more macro-oriented students within social work education (Rothman & Mizrahi, 2014). In response to the report recommendations, the ACOSA Board appointed a blue-ribbon group to follow-up on Rothman’s recommendations with representation from key social work leaders and educators with influence and scholarship expertise.

Leadership and Mission

In July 2013, Darlyne Bailey, then dean and professor at Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, was asked by this blue-ribbon group to chair a special commission. Upon Bailey’s request, Terry Mizrahi, (then) professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and former president of National Association of Social Works, joined as co-chair. This body was officially created and formally named the “Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work” (SC). Made up of faculty and staff from within CSWE’s MSW and BSW (bachelor of social work) accredited schools and programs, the commission began to work to accomplish two ambitious yet essential goals.

First, by the year 2020, 20% (called 20 by 2020) of all graduate-level social work students nationally would choose macro social work as an area of specialization within the MSW programs that had identified areas of specialization. Second, there would be a rebalancing of micro and macro curricula in these schools and programs, especially those identified as integrated practice or advanced generalist. Rebalancing meant including a comparable amount of identifiable macro content with micro content in classroom and field curricula and/or producing innovative models for uniting the range of practice competencies. In short, the essence of the SC remains to monitor and reinforce the viability of macro social work education in professional schools and programs to ensure the most effective social work practice for all served.

Structure, Staffing, Systems, and Strategies

While birthed by ACOSA, the SC was intended and continues to function autonomously. Major decisions made by the SC are not dependent on ACOSA Board approval, though its separate fundraising plans are made in consultation with ACOSA leadership. Also, by design, the SC has a home page on the ACOSA website and utilizes ACOSA’s administrative and accounting services for which it has paid ACOSA a small administrative fee since 2014. The ACOSA Board and the SC leadership developed a formal agreement that is reviewed annually. A joint ACOSA-SC leadership team meets periodically to communicate and coordinate activities.

Since its inception, the SC has purposely been a loosely connected alliance of multiple organizations and individuals. The benefits of an alliance such as this include the greater degrees of freedom that come with such a structure, and challenges include the various ways that different individuals or investors enact their roles and interpret their responsibilities While the overall SC functioned as an alliance, different components of the SC have operated as part of an advocacy coalition and others as part of a network (Bailey & Koney, 2022). At the end of 2020, discussions began and continue about exploring alternative models of relationships among the SC and ACOSA and other macro organizations, including more formalized partnerships such as a federation or even a consolidated structure (Bailey & Koney, 2022).

SC Commissioners

Eighteen social work leaders were invited by ACOSA leaders to become commissioners in 2013. As was the case at the outset, these individuals were identified by the ACOSA leaders at the time to include social workers who were active in or members of ACOSA, and while not officially representing the SC, many of the commissioners hold leadership positions in allied social work organizations or are identified as strong allies to advance macro practice in their respective roles. Withdrawal from being a commissioner is voluntary as there are no formal terms of membership. The commissioners function as an “advise and consult” group to the co-chairs and meet quarterly. As the years have progressed, many of the commissioners have taken on leadership of special projects within the SC through action clusters.

SC Staff

All SC members remain volunteers except for one or two paid part-time graduate students or recent graduates of social work programs who work as administrative assistants. They oversee taking and maintaining meeting minutes, organizing calls for national participants, creating and continuously updating the database, to then send out SC-wide communications, including notices, reports, and the annual SC fundraising letters. These staff members meet at least twice a month with the SC co-chairs and are invited to participate in all SC meetings and national and local events and activities.

Investor Schools

Investor schools are social work degree programs that have contributed financially to the SC at least once since the SC’s inception. With the exception of one or two individual donors, the investors have been the SC’s only source of income. Deans, directors, and chairs of social work programs are provided with an update about the SC and asked annually to make a monetary investment. Since 2014 at least 60 have contributed between $250 and $3,000. Bailey in her role as dean (until July 2017), made in-person presentations about the SC to fellow leaders at the National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD) annual meeting that also connected the two entities over the years.

In 2017, in addition to financial contributions made by deans, directors, or chairs, 75 made an in-kind contribution by identifying a faculty member to participate in a National Taskforce to create a curricular guide on macro socialwork education. The Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work Practice (2018) was the product of this partnership between the SC National Taskforce and CSWE.

The Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work Practice

Describing the process of producing the Macro Guide here demonstrates the principles and outcome of one of the Special Commission’s major collaborative products (Council on Social Work Education, 2018). The guide was based on the nine competencies of the CSWE’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) as of 2015. These were then applied and implemented for macro practice. Macro can be defined as directly attending to organizational administration and management, community organizing, and policy practice, while the micro/clinical-level is social work focusing on individuals and families. In macro working with groups is referred to as teamwork and in micro as groupwork. The term mezzo is no longer needed. CSWE competencies for the BSW and MSW programs require that social work practice content at community, organizational, and policy levels be part of the social work curriculum. The following are the highlights of the Macro Guide development process in each of its five phases.

Phase 1: Initiating the Guide

An ongoing dialogue between the SC and CSWE in 2017 resulted in the identification of the need for the Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work Practice as the fifth in its series of guides. This guide was designed to provide specific, detailed content and resources for social work educators, students, and practitioners to use in creating or enhancing macro curricula in the classroom and field.

To ensure an inclusive and comprehensive process, the SC invited ACOSA, the Network of Social Work Management (NSWM), and “Influencing Social Policy” (ISP) to each designate a focus area team leader in their respective areas of community, administration and management, or policy practice. CSWE and the SC sent a letter to the deans and directors of all CSWE accredited programs asking them to nominate a faculty member to participate in the newly created National Task Force for the Macro Guide. As news of this initiative spread broadly among schools and programs, 75 faculty became engaged members of the National Task Force.

Working with the SC co-chairs and CSWE representatives, the three focus area team leaders each invited three additional colleagues from among the National Task Force to join their team. This collective became the Coordinating Committee responsible for providing the overall direction and guidance of the National Task Force. Additionally, CSWE hired a consultant, who became part of the Coordinating Committee, to provide additional expertise on issues related to race and racial equity.

Phase 2: Convening the National Task Force

In September 2017, the National Task Force held a 2-day meeting at Catholic University in Washington, DC. The participants deliberated in small and large groups and explored the structure and content of the nine competencies as applied to the three focus areas. The task force then formed working teams that cut across the three focus areas to integrate content within each of the competencies for both descriptions and practice behaviors. The members of the National Task Force also invited two experienced field leaders to operationalize the competencies within field placements.

Phase 3: Formation of Work Groups

Following the National Task Force meetings, each focus area team leader reached out to team members for recommendations of curricular resources for each of the competencies (i.e., readings, field activities, class activities, media, assignments, and case studies). These focus area work groups compiled and refined their recommendations regarding definitions, competencies, and behaviors. These were reviewed and finalized by the focus area team leaders.

Phase 4: Integration of the Competencies Across Focus Areas

During this process, the focus area team leaders regularly met and intensively prepared a document that integrated the definitions and practice behaviors for each competency as provided by the collaborative working groups across three focus areas. They shared these integrated definitions and sets of practice behaviors within their respective focus area teams for further review and input for final drafts for each competency definition and set of practice behaviors.

Phase 5: Completion and Production of the Guide

In early June 2018, the macro leadership completed a final draft to send to the 75 National Task Force members and the consultant for review and comment. With a final review and editing by the SC co-chairs, the Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work was completed in summer 2018. CSWE published and distributed the first-ever Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work in fall 2018.

The goal was to provide a highly informative guide that maximally enabled inclusivity, multivocality, accessibility, and transparency. The task force members made steadfast and concerted efforts to avoid a binary gender identification when using pronouns such as he and she by including nouns such as student, faculty, staff, and community members. The intent of this guide was to provide a solid foundation for social work education programs to develop and enhance their own macro content to ensure that their graduates acquired competencies for specialized macro practice or robust macro content in generalist or integrated programs within the EPAS 2015 curriculum design. As of the end of 2020, 4,300 individuals had downloaded the guide beyond those who purchased it. It has been CSWE’s biggest success of all its guides to date.

As of early 2022, the SC had close to 100 institutional investors who have contributed financially and/or in-kind through the guide.


Allies is the term used for individuals who support the mission and goals of the SC and as such are an integral part of the SC alliance. There is no formal membership requirement to be an ally other than agreeing to actively endorse the SC mission and promote and participate in the steps and activities needed to advance macro practice. Allies are part of SC outreach and its mailing list and thereby receive regular updates on SC activities. They are invited to participate in these activities and encouraged to add their affiliations to the networking list and circulate information and requests from the SC leadership among their colleagues and related organizations. Allies do not have to be classroom educators or even social workers, but, given the history of the SC, most allies are one or the other. Allies participate in the yearly in-person SC meeting held at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting (APM) (held virtually in 2020). They may also join an action cluster or work group as soon described. As of 2020, there were over 500 allies and supporters engaged in advancing the goals of the SC alliance.

In 2017, Bryn Mawr College SC graduate assistant Jenay Smith was asked to conduct research to produce the story of the SC. This research included interviewing many allies and supporters. A co-author of this article, Smith’s findings are included in this article.

Action Clusters and Work Groups

“Action clusters” (ACs) is the term used for small groups of SC commissioners and allies with specific functions and strategies to advance and activate one or both SC goals, thereby also strengthening the knowledge development of macro social work. Each AC has a lead person/convener and a volunteer group of participants who meet as needed online during the year and in-person each year at the CSWE APM. When the APM was virtual in 2020, the SC held its meeting virtually before the opening. The ACs descriptions and work plans continue to be based on the commissioners’ and allies’ knowledge of what needs to be done to improve macro education and practice.

Reaffirmed in early 2021, the four ACs and their overarching goals continue to be as follows:

AC #1: Resource Development—To develop a clearinghouse and/or searchable database that includes a wide variety of support materials such as assignments, syllabi, curricular materials, media, handouts, and activities.

AC #2: Social Media—To create and deliver information about the SC using current digital media, including podcasts, webinars, and other social media avenues.

AC #3: Networking—To establish and sustain formal linkages for joint activities between the SC and allied organizations inside and outside social work.

AC #4: Data and Outcomes—To analyze data collected from CSWE regarding BSW and MSW macro enrollments and content to determine and assess the various matrices for measuring the SC goals of 20% by 2020 and rebalancing macro and micro social work curricula.

Fulfilling the objectives of the four ACs also includes seeking social worker educators and practitioners who are macro leaders willing individually and collectively to advance the viability and visibility of the SC.

Communication within the SC alliance (including within the ACs) is done mostly online. In addition to email blasts, since 2018 the SC has conducted qualitative surveys to update the progress that has been made to advance macro practice among social work academic institutions. This survey has also become a major recruitment tool for the ACs and work groups and to provide data on their macro-program directions.

Based on the surveys and quarterly SC meetings, three work groups were created to address specific topics: “Licensing and Macro Social Work” was formed in 2016 to interface directly with the national Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) as it affects macro education and practice (Nienow et al., 2022). Licensing and Macro Social Work became a work group, made up of educators and practitioners from across the United States, that also addresses other fundamental issues affecting our profession. After determining the need for a comprehensive and inclusive definition of the profession, the group underwent an arduous vetting process with multiple stakeholders to create a definition of social work that neither gave preference to clinical social work nor marginalized macro social work (Nienow et al., 2022). The definition was reviewed and then adopted by the SC and presented at several major professional conferences.

In 2018, the “National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign,” an initiative to engage the social work community in voter activities, was endorsed by the SC and other major professional associations. With SC co-chair Terry Mizrahi and Commissioner Mimi Abramovitz at the helm, this work group also became known as an SC partnership.

At the end of 2020, a new work group on the “Macro Workforce” was created to address the challenges and opportunities in pursuing a macro career and make both of those more visible. Its initiatives in 2021 were twofold: First, the creation of a new AC #5, “ACARDA: Advancing Critical Anti-Racism Dialogues for Action,” to make explicit and reify the need for macro interventions in response to heightened public awareness of historic issues of structural and institutional inequities and disparities; and second, a collective macro-informed response to CSWE’s EPAS 2022 draft with broad-based input from within the SC.

As with the ACs, the role of each work group convener is to outreach separately to its identified participants and report at commissioners’ meetings on the progress toward and/or accomplishments of its objectives. Active involvement in and leadership of an AC or work group has been one way to recruit and subsequently invite participants to also become commissioners.

Collaborations With Significant Stakeholders

To be most effective in accomplishing its mission, all organizations require connections with individuals and/or groups who have an interest (i.e., a stake) in the organization and its work (Bailey & Aronoff, 2004). For the SC, one of the primary strategies has been to engage the active involvement of various social work organizations in, first, acknowledging the deficit of macro-related policies and processes in their areas of focus, and second, then to rectify this through working in partnerships around shared goals. In addition to its close ties with ACOSA, the SC has relationships with other major social work organizations.

Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

CSWE was the first and one of the most important organizations for the SC to connect with, especially given the earlier described history of macro education in the profession and CSWE’s role in standard setting for accreditation and reaffirmation of BSW and MSW programs. Shortly after its formation, the SC reached out to CSWE for support and resources to help implement its 20 by 2020 and rebalancing goals. The request, which included the establishment of a unique commission within CSWE to focus on macro curricula, was not accepted. By 2017, CSWE issued a statement of “affirmation,” notably eschewing the term “endorsement.”

Affirmation. The SC continues to work with CSWE by identifying and supporting potential CSWE elected leaders who actively embrace the SC goals. There have been several significant positive outcomes from this collaboration as noted here.

Policy Initiative Coalition. In 2015 the SC was invited to be part of the CSWE coalition steering committee to preview applications and select awardees from their national request for proposals. This initiative has provided seed funding for innovative policy initiatives conducted through accredited programs’ offices of field education.

EPAS Contributions. EPAS 2015 saw a strengthening of language to heighten macro visibility as well as the addition of a separate policy practice standard that the SC advocated.

Macro Guide. As important, in 2017 CSWE invited the SC to collaborate on the production of the Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work Practice as part of the EPAS 2015 Curricular Guide Resource Series Practice. The SC invited ACOSA, NSWM, and ISP to partner with them. As mentioned, as of March 2021, the Macro Guide was reported by CSWE to be the most widely read among its guides.

Presence at the CSWE APM. Additionally, each year since 2013, the SC has had a major presence at the APM through intentional engagement with the attendees at its standing-room only partnership sessions. It distributed materials and created the “Button Campaign,” which has become a highlight of the SC presence at CSWE. Since 2014 at the opening plenary, SC members distributed a “Button of the Year” and a summary update of SC accomplishments. (In 2020 because CSWE was online, these buttons were distributed virtually.) These buttons and materials are in colors using short slogans to align with the current national sociopolitical environment. These were the slogans each year: Ask Me Why Macro Matters—dark blue; NOW! Make Macro Matter!—green; We are … UNITED FOR MACRO!—orange; It’s Macro Matters Time—purple; MACRO MATTERS! NOW MORE THAN EVER!—tangerine; MACRO PERSISTS!—lime; and in 2020, MACRO UNITES! with letters in the colors of the rainbow. Additionally, the SC and several of its partner organizations developed a “United for Macro” banner and handouts listing the SC and its allied partners, the names of which are prominently displayed and circulated (ACOSA, NSWM, ISP, MSWSN, #MacroSW).

Publicizing the macro presentations. Each year at CSWE, ACOSA and the SC have produced a list of all the macro presentations at the APM to promote people’s awareness and attendance. Attendance at these sessions has increased over time. In addition to the “Partnership Session,” the SC has held networking events during the CSWE APM.

The Macro exhibition booth. The SC has contributed to the ACOSA booth in the exhibit hall each year with its hall neighbors, macro organizations—ISP and the NSWM, and macro-inclusive publishers nearby. This “macro row” has increased the traffic of members walking by and allowed recruitment and engagement with the SC and ACOSA volunteers working the booth.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

In April 2014, the SC organized what was deemed a “historic first” to raise the profile and increase its collaboration with major social work organizations. Held at the NASW headquarters, it included the CEOs of NASW, CSWE, and the Association of Social Work Boards with selected affirmations listed here.

STATEMENT FROM THE NASW NEWS—JANUARY 2016 CEO Angelo McClain— Editorial: “Taking a Stand Against the Status Quo”

Across the country social work is taking a stand against the status quo. For instance, the Commission to Advance Macro Practice is on a campaign to rebalance social work’s focus to assure that sufficient emphasis is placed on social work macro practice and addressing social injustices. The commission’s mantra “Macro matters” is an important reminder of the enormous power in policies, politics, and people.

STATEMENT FROM THE NASW BOARD OF DIRECTORS—FEBRUARY 2018 President Kathy Wehrmann: “The NASW Board supports the Special Commission’s goals and objectives and will work to collaborate with the Special Commission.”

Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Responsible for the national social work licensing program, ASWB has a strong relationship with independent state social work licensing boards. Since 2016, ASWB has accepted the invitation to meet regularly at CSWE with the SC licensing work group to examine the impact of regulation on macro practice social work.

The group continues to meet and engage with individuals and organizations about the role and impact that regulation and licensing has on the profession. They have identified three primary recommendations related to social work regulation, which include encouraging state adoption of the Model Practice Act regulation language, pursuing graduate category licensure for social workers focused on macro practice, and linking title protection to degree versus license. The members of the work group are committed to advancing these recommendations through research, education, and policy advocacy.

National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD)

As per its website, NADD is “a volunteer membership organization dedicated to promoting excellence in social work education.” Founded in 1986, NADD members are deans, directors, and chairpersons of graduate social work programs in the United States and Canada.

The NADD Board of Directors wholeheartedly endorses the Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work and supports its goal of “20 by 2020.” We strongly feel that the Special Commission is an important endeavor and will work with these colleagues to achieve this goal that is central to the future of the social work profession.

—Martell Teasley, MSW, PhD, President of National Association of Deans and Directors, (personal communication, October 2017)

Influencing Social Policy (ISP)

A collaborating organization with the SC since its inception, ISP was a one of three macro partners in the production of the SC’s Specialized Macro Curricular Guide (with NSWM and ACOSA). The mission of ISP is to actively engage social workers in policy research, practice, and teaching to advance social welfare policies that promote human well-being and social justice. In 2020 ISP began proactive work to become an antiracist organization and is reassessing its mission, core values, and bylaws via an antiracist lens. ISP sponsors an annual policy conference and teaching institute and was a major sponsoring organization for the United for Macro 2021 Conference.

Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP)

CRISP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging and facilitating social workers’ engagement with Congress, created in 2012 by Charles E. Lewis.

CRISP supports the goals and agenda of the SC to promote macro practice including the policy and political components. CRISP continues to collaborate with the SC and other macro organizations to rebalance the micro and macro end of the social work profession.

—Charles E. Lewis, Jr., MSW, PhD, Director, (Personal communication, September 2016)

The Network for Social Work Management (NSWM)

Started in 1985, the mission of NSWM focuses on the education and development of “social impact leaders.” NSWM is one of the SC’s United for Macro partners.

NSWM started its Human Services Management Certificate program in 2015 and is aligned with the journal Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership, and Governance (formerly Administration in Social Work).

NSWM also shared insights learned about establishing a certificate program with ACOSA to help launch ACOSA’s 2020 Community Practice Certificate.

The Network for Social Work Management is pleased to be a United for Macro partner with the Special Commission and other macro organizations.

—Lakeya Cherry, MSSW, DSW, CEO, June 2016

Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR)

In 2017, the SC created a work group with members active in the SC and the SSWR to focus on macro social work research. As a result of discussions with SSWR leadership, increased collaboration with the SC has occurred. SSWR is continuing to promote the importance of macro policy, politics, and social justice agendas for all social work educators and scholars by having as its keynote speakers Angela Davis in 2019 and Stacy Abrams in early 2020. The following is an excerpt from SSWR’s statement of support for the SC:

The SSWR supports the Special Commission agenda and has been moving in a similar direction on many of the issues identified by the Special Commission… . We agree wholeheartedly with the following two recommendations, and also believe that they are well underway within the association… . (1) Providing top-level support, such as special lectures, pre-session and post session activities… . (2) Extending support to researchers to amplify their macro findings/implications.

—Ruth Dunkle, PhD, President, (Personal communication, May 2018)

Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN)

The SC collaborates with the MSWSN, a national, student-initiated project with ACOSA. MSWSN has helped create student-led chapters and supports macro social work student organizations in the United States and abroad. The organization also works to increase the voice and visibility of current and future macro students and those interested in obtaining macro skills and professional connections.

SC Accomplishments

Since the inception of the SC, in addition to those noted earlier, there have been many successes. Achievements have been secured by the SC by way of networking and in response to advocacy done around advancing macro practice.

Highlights include the following:

Securing revisions to the “Social Work” entry in the U.S. Department of Labor’s/Bureau of Labor Statistics through the network of the SC.

Promoting the presence of social work and their allies in political and policy venues including the “Social Work on Capitol Hill Day” (since 2015) with the Social Work Congressional Caucus sponsored by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy-CRISP.

Producing and showcasing the role and contributions of macro-trained social workers at the community, system, and policy levels through various media SC videos and podcasts, for example, Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice—Overview and Macro Social Work Stories.

Partnering with #MacroSW that started Twitter chats in 2014 to develop new content and create a conversation around macro social work practice.

Producing the first-ever Encyclopedia of Macro Social Work (online and in print) published by Oxford University and NASW Presses starting in 2022 and continuing development of macro content as part of the online Encyclopedia of Social Work. The Encyclopedia’s editorial team—made up of associate and consulting editors and Oxford University Press editorial staff—is convened by SC co-chairs Bailey and Mizrahi and includes a work group dubbed “Good ’n Plenty.” This group is working with the rest of the editorial team to explore the interrelationships among issues of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” as they manifest among the authors and the anticipated 200+ articles in this publication. The goal is to share all lessons learned with other editors and publishers via professional articles.

Co-sponsoring the 2021 inaugural MACRO-UNITED Conference that, among its other many presentations and poster sessions, included the first-ever Macro Panel, consisting of the leadership of all the national macro organizations.

Identifying and securing support from macro social workers inside and outside government and in nonprofit agencies and advocacy organizations at neighborhood, local, state, and national levels (e.g., Mulkulski-MD, Stabenow- MI, and Sinema-AZ) and several social workers who are members of the House of Representatives (e.g., Lee and Bass- CA, Demings-FL, Garcia-TX) and the hundreds of state and local legislators who are social workers or social work allies.

Promoting the utilization of macro journals: Journal of Community Practice: Community Organizing Planning, Development, and Change; Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership, and Governance (formerly Administration in Social Work); and the Journal of Policy Practice and Research to raise the profile, scholarship, and readership of macro researchers and educators.

Encouraging the development of important scholarly materials by members of the SC for use by faculty, students, and field educators. These include “The Five Frameworks” developing theory for macro-practice curricula (case to cause, community organizing, organizational change, policy practice, and human rights); “Why Macro Practice Matters,” a concept paper by Michael Reisch; and a concept paper by Mike Austin and others linking micro and macro practices.

Challenges and Opportunities for Future Directions: Internal and External Transitions and Transformations

In a small survey conducted by several SC commissioners in 2017, two major themes were identified: building stronger organizational affiliations, and having greater accountability within and with our SC partners. At the virtual SC event before the online CSWE APM in 2020, these themes remained evident through the goals that were outlined for the SC moving forward. What follows is a brief description of those goals and their related challenges and opportunities.

Furthering Outreach Within and Beyond Our Professional Organizations

Expanding the alliance has allowed the SC to impact how organizations and key players in organizations understand and can align with the SC mission. Building on the foundational support, endorsements, and affiliations of the current partnerships to establish greater degrees of formality and interdependence comes with issues of heightened risk (Bailey & Koney, 2022). Nonetheless, exploring this increase in formal connections is the expressed, desired next step in the SC evolution. Such structural and system changes would enrich the work of the ACs and work groups and provide opportunities for the creation of new ones as well. Examples include to produce and publicize a series of podcasts that demonstrate successful interventions and initiatives to address social, economic, and racial justice for students and agency staff and make better use of the SC webpage on the ACOSA site or create a new SC website.

The SC is mostly known through “word of mouth” and its visibility at some national meetings of sister organizations, but many feel that the SC is not doing enough to reach a larger audience. One consideration is the development of its own social media communication channels. Movements like integrated health and education utilize online forums when communicating with their members; this creates greater visibility (Taub, 2001). Social media via Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn have not been created or utilized by the SC thus far.

Relatedly, a closer link can be created with one of the SC’s allied macro organizations #macroSW, a twitter account, especially as the digital world remains a largely untapped resource in the social work field (Castillo De Mesa et al., 2019). Goals include the following:

Establish an electronic data-collection system to collect different tiers of information.

Periodically collect, classify, and distribute macro resources and references (e.g., syllabi and other curricula materials that highlight exemplary social, economic, environmental, and antiracist and other anti-oppression initiatives to decolonize social work curricula and integrate “voter and civic engagement” into classroom and field assignments).

Form an anti-oppression response and action team to oppose or support policy proposals presented by government and/or professional organizations; identify ways to participate at the presidential administration level and publicly support and align with kindred others already doing so.

Elevate macro career tracks and social workers serving in such roles, including returning to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to expand the description of social work jobs.

Deepen efforts in working with the ASWB to ensure that the social work exam contains sufficient macro-oriented questions and that the definition of social work described by the licensing boards in the 50 states includes a comprehensive one, broad and robust enough to include the ability of macro social workers to attain a generic/generalist license if they so desire.

Review and respond to plans by NASW, CSWE, NADD, ACOSA, NSWM, BPD (baccalaureate program directors), NSWM, and others to address social justice to collaborate, advocate, and hold them accountable.

Identify and Engage Macro Liaisons

There are now more individual allies who have prominent connections to the organizations with which the SC can continue or begin to partner. Coordinating these people and putting their connections to mutual use also enables the SC to be more efficient (Yeung, 2009) and is key to moving forward important goals (Walter et al., 2012). Reaching out to faculty members and field instructors from MSW and BSW programs to serve in this capacity hopefully will enable enhanced reciprocal communications—that is, the SC better learns what is happening in the programs and the field, and SC recommendations can be more easily distributed for feedback, refinement, and collective action. To this end, the 2021 SC survey asked the SC members if they would be willing to serve in this capacity. Deans, directors, and chairs of social work programs will also be asked to identify a faculty member to serve as a liaison to seek and provide information from and to their colleagues, students, field instructors, and so forth. All liaisons will become allies as well with, again, mutual gain as the desired goal.

Establishing macro liaisons can also well serve the SC investor schools and programs. To date, these members of the SC alliance have not been held to any specific criteria or expectations when they are designated as investor schools and institutions. They are asked to donate to the SC because they are schools of social work but not sufficiently tied to the work of the SC. The investors function like the weak and strong ties explained by Daly (2011); they have exercised strong and much needed ties in relation to funding but have weak ties to additional roles such as advancing 20 by 2020 or rebalancing micro and macro curricula. Working through the macro liaisons could increase funding and sharing of other resources. To better meet the needs of the Investors, the SC would learn more through the liaisons as to the type of resources and support the investors need to increase their macro agenda.

Relatedly, allies are not required to maintain dues to be a part of the SC and its work. This could be an area to reconsider. One challenge is that the members of the SC also pay dues or membership fees to ACOSA and other social work and related organizations. Another option is to ask individuals for monetary donations. Because they are not asked for a specific financial or in-kind contribution ironically, they might not feel as much a stake in the SC as they could have.

Moreover, allies could work with macro liaisons in approaching investor schools and programs to contribute financially each year, prioritizing new deans/directors/chairs to cultivate a relationship with the SC. Based on survey findings, it is clear that most everyone is continuously drawn to the SC because of the progress being made toward its goals. In the future, additional ways will be explored to elevate the accomplishments and enlist deans and faculty in addressing challenges and dilemmas and further share successful strategies as well. As long as the momentum keeps building and people are continuously invested in the SC work, fundraising can expand.

Reconfiguring the Special Commissioners’ Roles and Responsibilities

The SC will also explore possibilities for more formal representation from other social work organizations that are part of United for Macro, for example, ISP, #MacroSW, NSWM, ACOSA, and the MSWSN. In so doing, commissioners will be further supported in issuing more public statements about the impact of policies on individuals, the social sector organizations that serve them, and the communities where they live.

The commissioners can set more specific criteria and measurable objectives so that new allies know exactly what is expected of them moving forward. Additionally, this will give allies more latitude in creating and following through on their own macro projects and provide even minimal resources—in-kind or, if available, financial as well. This is how some of ACs were birthed. According to the 2017 report, respondents answered that their voices were being heard.

Furthering Outreach to the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE) and Baccalaureate Program Directors (BPD) While Deepening the Collaboration With the Network (NSWM)

Actions here would include more intentionally reaching out to doctoral faculty and chairs to discuss ways to increase macro-level research and dissertations and develop macro career-track opportunities. Additionally, steps can be taken to engage more BSW faculty and department chairs to identify and support how they integrate macro content into their BSW curricula. Joint activities with the NSWM would greatly further the knowledge base of organizational leadership curricula in our schools and programs.

Enhancing the Strategic Agenda with CSWE, NASW, and NADD

Activities here would include

continuing to promote and encourage CSWE and NASW opportunities for SC members to participate in commissions and councils; running for CSWE and NASW Board leadership;

working to ensure enhanced and standardized data collection regarding macro curricula and specializations, models of practice and career opportunities; reviewing and commenting on CSWE EPAS 2022 to continue to strengthen macro education and practice since EPAS 2015;

and lastly, while awareness has been raised, increased attention needs to focus on social work leadership in each social work program, individually and collectively, to discover ways to possibly assist the hiring of more macro faculty and the incorporation of macro materials into the program curricula in the classroom and field.

Challenges in Measuring 20 by 2020 Success

Questions still arise about the definition of a macro concentration and how one evaluates it. In 2012, eight percent of students in master’s level social work programs were enrolled in a macro-equivalent concentration (Rothman, 2013). Because CSWE has had inconsistent and changing criteria for defining the various types of macro concentrations or specializations, it has been difficult to measure whether the SC’s specific goal of 20% by 2020 was met; an informal self-assessment by the authors has that percentage between 15% and 18%. That said, macro concentrations are largely defined individually by each school. There is no universal standard for schools and programs to measure a macro or macro-like concentration.

In the coming years, the SC will work toward identifying additional criteria to ascertain the attainment of rebalancing macro and micro in BSW programs and in MSW programs with generalist/integrated orientations. It will continue to work with the CSWE to determine common macro-practice competencies that will be used as the standard for each program. In so doing, if students are in a generalist social work track that satisfies the macro competencies, they can be accurately counted. This may increase the numbers included in the pool of students who have obtained a rebalanced micro-macro education. With the expectation among the SC commissioners, investors, and allies that the SC continue to advance macro social work practice at individual institutions and profession-wide, exploring the use of an SC electronic data-collection system to collect different tiers of information may also be necessary.


Beginning in 2020, the United States experienced an extremely challenging and difficult time, including mass protests because of racial inequities and senseless killings; the pandemic affecting millions of Americans financially, mentally, and socially; and politically contested presidential and congressional elections. Even with the historically diverse and talented appointments made by President Biden (eg. the first woman and woman of color Vice President Harris), greater macro focus and expertise will be essential. This includes exhorting our social work national leaders to aggressively promote a strategic campaign based on the Grand Challenges in Social Work (2012). This includes police reform, social welfare program expansion, and addressing systemic racism and other forms of discrimination. As indicated by the SC formation of the AC Advancing Critical Anti-Racism Dialogues for Action (ACARDA), these ambitious yet essential transformations require the knowledge, skills, and values promoted by the SC at all levels of the profession.

The SC is a rapidly growing alliance that is gaining more traction every year with its single overarching intention of advancing macro practice in social work within academia and, therefore, joining others in positively impacting the world of social work practice. Moving forward, different aspects of the SC efforts need to be enhanced and reconsidered to maintain a cohesive campaign beyond 2021. As the needs of the world shift and change, so must the structure, staffing, systems, and strategies of the SC. From its inception as a “moment” proposed by Jack Rothman to the “movement” it has become, the focus of the SC remains to monitor and reinforce the viability of macro social work education in our professional schools and programs by rebalancing micro and macro curricula. In so doing, the SC joins others to ensure that the profession provides the best service possible to individuals, families, and small groups, as well as their organizations and communities; and enacts societal policies intended to protect the health and well-being of all.


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