Social workers use the person-in-environment approach to understand the relationship between individuals and their physical and social environments. This ecological perspective is a framework that is based on concepts associated with systems theory. Systems theory guides social workers when they assess how factors in the environment such as school, work, culture, and social policy impact the individual. Although social workers commonly use the systems approach to focus on the individual, they may apply this approach to human services organizations as well. Human services organizations exist within the context of the social, economic, and political environments, and any type of change in one aspect of the environment will influence the organization’s internal and external functioning.
For this Assignment, consider how administrators of human services organizations may apply systems theory in their work. Also, consider what you have discovered about the roles of leadership and management and how these contribute to an organization’s overall functioning.
Assignment (2–3 pages in APA format): Explain how systems theory can help administrators understand the relationships between human services organizations and their environments. Provide specific examples of ways administrators might apply systems theory to their work. Finally, explain how leadership and management roles within human services organizations contribute to their overall functioning.
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Administration in Social Work
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Theoretical Perspectives on the Social Environment to Guide Management and Community Practice An Organization-in-Environment Approach
Elizabeth A. Mulroy PhD
To cite this article: Elizabeth A. Mulroy PhD (2004) Theoretical Perspectives on the Social Environment to Guide Management and Community Practice, Administration in Social Work, 28:1, 77-96, DOI: 10.1300/J147v28n01_06
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Theoretical Perspectives on the Social Environment to Guide
Management and Community Practice: An Organization-in-Environment Approach
Elizabeth A. Mulroy, PhD
ABSTRACT. This paper introduces a conceptual framework called Or-
ganization-in-Environment that is intended to help social work students,
particularly those preparing for careers in management and community
practice, understand the complexity of the social environment in the con-
text of a global economy. This model is based on two assumptions. First,
organizations and communities are embedded in large, complex macro
systems that helped to create institutional barriers of the past. Second, or-
ganizations are civic actors with the potential to strengthen communities
and change institutional inequities set in larger societal systems. Theories
of social justice, the political economy, vertical and horizontal linkages,
organization/environment dimensions, and interorganizational collabora-
tion are presented and used to help analyze the model. Case examples of
privatization, gentrification, and homelessness are used to illustrate theory
for practice. Finally, implications are drawn for a future-oriented practice
that emphasizes external relations and their political dimensions: strategic
management, interorganizational collaboration, community building, re-
gional action, and a commitment to social justice. [Article copies available
for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH.
Elizabeth A. Mulroy is Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Maryland-Baltimore, 525 West Redwood Street, Baltimore, MD 21201 (E-mail: email@example.com).
The author thanks Michael J. Austin for his very helpful comments on earlier versions of the article.
Administration in Social Work, Vol. 28(1) 2004 http://www.haworthpress.com/web/ASW
2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J147v28n01_06 77http://www.HaworthPress http://www.haworthpress.com/web/ASW
KEYWORDS. Social justice, social environment theory, organizational change, social change, community theory, collaboration
The purpose of this paper is to examine the concept of the social environment and to consider some theoretical perspectives of management and community practice. The study of macro level factors begins with an examination of the social environ- ment; namely understanding how people interact–how they respond, adapt, and cope with family, friends, peers, and intimate others, and how they interact in less personal relationships within work organizations, schools, or associations in which a person assumes a role as citizen, producer, consumer, or client. It should then exam- ine social norms, social institutions, and institutional arrangements–the working agreements about the distribution of wealth, power, prestige, privilege associated with race, ethnicity, gender, age, mental status, or sexual orientation. While de- signed to create stability for society, institutional arrangements can be a source of conflict for those who experience institutional inequities (Mulroy, 1995a).
Students of management and community practice, and in fact all social work stu- dents, need to critically examine how macro level factors affect the lives of people who live in neighborhoods and communities, especially the lives of very low-income children and their families who live in neighborhood poverty. Gephart (1997) writes:
Existing research suggests the interaction of several forces in American cities over the past fifty years has led to the increased spatial concentration of poverty, the geographic spread of concentrated poverty, and the in- creased clustering of poverty with other forms of social and economic dis- advantage. These forces have altered the context of urban poverty at the community level and created the neighborhoods and communities of con- centrated poverty . . . (1994, pp. 3-4)
The concept of the social environment becomes more holistic when we in- clude the physical environment, especially in relation to land use and population distribution (Norlin & Chess, 1997). The question for management and commu- nity practice is how do we understand the social environment in this way, and how do we educate students to manage and change it?
While a discussion of the social environment usually begins with community theory and organization theory as if communities and organizations were separate topics, a broader and more integrated conceptual framework is needed for the edu- cational task at hand. Communities and organizations are located in larger, com- plex systems as part of an ecology of shifting resources and constraints. Based on a theoretical foundation that informs this reality, the next generation of practitio- ners will need to:
78 ADMINISTRATION IN SOCIAL WORK
• Identify and understand the critical strategic issues external to their organi- zations.
• Assess the inter-relatedness and cross-cutting impacts of the issues. • Analyze how the issues affect their agency’s mission, purposes, resources,
and operations. • Learn which other organizations are affected across a range of community
types such as geographic community and communities of interest. • Determine which theoretical perspectives offer guidance to inform a range
of practice innovations that will help to solve the presenting problems while holding firm to the overriding goal of social justice.
This article examines the social environment by building on social systems and ecological theories (not reviewed here) in order to focus on the political economy, vertical and horizontal linkages, organization-environment relations, and inter- organizational collaboration. These are selected for illustrative purposes to dem- onstrate how they can inform macro-level practice. The goal of helping students understand the social environment is related to the following four points:
1. The social environment and the physical environment are tightly linked and intertwined.
2. Factors and relationships external to an organization are important. 3. Public policies and societal factors are continuous forces of change not
only for organizations but also for the communities in which organizations are located.
4. A commitment to social justice is a core principle that frames management and community practice.
A MODEL OF ORGANIZATION-IN-ENVIRONMENT
Social justice, a core value of social work (Reamer, 2000), drives the model (see Figure 1). Social justice has historically guided reformers and social workers to re-frame the pressing social issues of the times and to engage in the complex work of finding solutions to vexing societal problems (Addams, 1910; Wald, 1915; Schorr, 1964; Schorr, 1997; Patti, 2000). Today this means confronting the rearrangement of institutional barriers that emerged in our urban areas during the past 30 years–barriers that helped to create and sustain neighborhood poverty that continue to affect the health and well-being of residents and prevent the advance- ment of many very low-income people, especially minorities.
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 79
The starting point for most discussions of social justice is the theory of justice developed by philosopher John Rawls (1972) who proposed three guiding prin- ciples: equality in basic liberties, equality of opportunity for advancement, and positive discrimination for the underprivileged in order to ensure equity. Rawls derived these principles of justice on what he believed reasonable people, with no prior knowledge or stake in the outcome, would apply to a society in which they were to live (Ife, 1996).
Ife (1996) moves the analysis of social justice from the individual to the commu- nity level. Following Ife’s thinking, social justice at the macro level is based on six
80 ADMINISTRATION IN SOCIAL WORKSocial Justice
Level 3 Societal/Policy Forces
Level 2 Locality-Based Community
IMPACTS SOLUTIONS AgencyLevel 1
Economic Globalization Market Economy
Mulroy, E. 2003
FIGURE 1. Organization-in-Environment: A Conceptual Framework
principles: structural disadvantage, empowerment, needs, rights, peace and non-vio- lence, and participatory democracy. He argues that unless changes are made to the basic structures of oppression, which create and perpetuate an unequal and inequita- ble society, any social justice strategy has limited value. “. . . all programmes that claim a social justice label need to be evaluated in terms of their relationship with the dominant forms of structural oppression, specifically class, gender, and race/ethnic- ity” (1996, p. 55). He believes that a specific commitment to addressing the inequal- ities of class, gender and race/ethnicity must be a core element of any social justice strategy, and the guiding principle of community practice (p. 56).
Harvey (1973), writing from an economic and urban perspective states, “The evidence suggests that the forces of urbanization are emerging strongly and moving to dominate the centre stage of world history . . . We have the opportu- nity to create space, to harness creatively the forces making for urban differenti- ation. But in order to seize these opportunities we have to confront the forces that create cities as alien environments, that push urbanization in directions alien to our individual or collective purpose. To confront these forces we first have to understand them” (pp. 313-314). That is, social workers must first understand how the forces of oppression operate across a metropolitan landscape in order to devise strategies capable of bringing about lasting change.
Levels of Influence
Figure 1 depicts a social environment in which communities and agencies are part of larger systems. The first set of arrows suggests that macro level factors Im- pact communities and the organizations in them. The second set of arrows sug- gests that organizations and communities work to find Solutions to help break down or change oppressive institutional barriers in the larger society. The circular pattern emphasizes the interconnectedness of the ideas presented (Ife, 1996).
Level 3–Societal/Policy Factors
Macro level factors include, but are not limited to the market economy, globalization, immigration, poverty, and a range of public policies. Institu- tional arrangements are formulated at Level 3. These may include, for exam- ple, international real estate investment and financial lending decisions and supportive public policies related to housing and urban development; na- tional or regional labor market needs and supportive federal policies and reg- ulations related to immigration; medical, managed care, and health facilities decisions driven by insurance companies; or shifting national political prior- ities toward privatization of public services generally and the adoption of a contracting and purchase of services culture.
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 81
Political Economy. The political economy concerns the intersection of events and decisions in a community and the wider polity that have economic implica- tions and political considerations. For example, the political economy involves powerful elite forces that own and control economic capital, use economic re- sources to promote industrial growth, and compete for control over modes of pro- duction and resources. Land, for example, is considered an economic resource to be brought to its highest and best use. The urban political economy creates the physical environment through real estate development and the highly politicized processes of land use planning and zoning with their manifestations in state and local-level land use plans, governance, and control (Feagin, 1998; Gottdiener, 1994; Lefebrvre, 1991). In The Political Economy of the Black Ghetto, Tabb (1970) asserted that racism is perpetuated by elements of oppression within an economic and political system that must be understood as a system (p. vii).
The political economy can also be applied to organizations and their environ- ments (Hasenfeld, 1983; 1992). The capacity of a human service organization to survive and to deliver services in the 21st century is based on its ability to mobi- lize power, legitimacy, and economic resources (Hasenfeld, 1992, p. 96). For nonprofit organizations this is reflected in the increased degree of dependency on resources external to their own organizations from federal and state grants and contracts, and private philanthropic grants from foundations (Gibelman, 2000; Martin, 2000). Functions of management include the acquisition of a wide range of external funding, financial control through management of multiple grants and contracts, impacts on program implementation, competition among internal programs for scarce resources, and effects on organization-wide fiscal stability (Gummer, 1990). Implications of resource dependency include the po- litical effects on nonprofit and public human service agencies when national and state budget priorities shift, and newly elected legislative bodies fail to reauthorize allocated funds for existing demonstration and other programs mid-stream in their implementation cycles (Mulroy & Lauber, 2002). The con- cept of privatization is used in the following example to illustrate the ways in which macro level factors can operate in the social environment, in this case on agencies directly. (A range of diverse macro level factors can be introduced in Level 3 for purposes of analysis.)
Example: Privatization. Privatization is the shifting of service delivery from the public sector to the private for-profit and nonprofit sectors through contracts and the purchase of services. It is a market-oriented approach in which individ- ual nonprofit human service organizations compete for public funds on an un- even playing field. It increased competition first within the nonprofit sector as large and small nonprofits vied with each other for public sector contracts in a period of overall reduced federal expenditures for domestic social services. Competition then increased outside the sector as nonprofits had to compete with
82 ADMINISTRATION IN SOCIAL WORK
private firms. Hard hit were community-based nonprofit organizations with so- cial change missions (Fabricant & Fisher, 2002).
The for-profit sector has benefited from privatization, particularly after pas- sage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. Highly resourced, large corporations with no ties to local communities offered large state and county agencies the chance to purchase packages of diverse services that included management information systems, welfare-to-work job training programs, Medicaid billing, case management, and direct services to recipients (Frumkin & Andre-Clark, 2000).
Many smaller nonprofit human service organizations faced serious dilemmas such as being priced out of existence, scaling back services to the poorest or sickest, and proving in the short term that their interventions get results. When viewed from a social justice perspective, implications of privatization can be drawn for service equity, access, cost, continuity, and quality of care (see Gibelman & Demone, 2002).
Level 2–The Geographic Community
Institutional arrangements developed in Level 3 are absorbed and imple- mented in Level 2. The locality-based community can be a neighborhood, city, county, or other jurisdiction with boundaries and an interactional field (Warren, 1978) of subunits that serve collective needs. The locality-based definition of community for Level 2 was selected because it has a geographic boundary, be it a neighborhood, city, or county that students in field placement internships can readily identify. Other definitions of community can be woven in as needed (see Fellin, 2001).
Vertical Links as “Windows on the World.” The pioneering work of Roland Warren (1971; 1977; 1978) provides a powerful and provocative concept for an- alyzing communities in terms of their horizontal and vertical patterns. The hori- zontal pattern is understood to be an “interactional field” that viewed community as the aggregate of people and organizations occupying a geo- graphic area whose interactions represent systemic interconnections (1978). He explicitly stated that the interactional arena was of social rather than physical space. The importance of vertical ties was that they linked community units to units outside the community, or to the macro system and thus to the larger soci- ety and culture. Such ties could have a number of aspects that were economic, thought systems or ideologies, economic roles or occupations, technologies, public behavior, common values and norms, patterns of land use, social stratifi- cation, power structures, organizational linkages, and social problems (Warren, 1978, pp. 432-437).
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 83
The concept of a vertical pattern of ties is an intriguing idea to me because it introduces this question: To what extent does the strength of a community’s ver- tical ties determine the resources and support it gets from national, state, city, or county sources in an increasingly global economy? My interest in this question launched the trajectory of my own research based on the macro system ap- proach. I have attempted to systematically analyze relationships between as- pects of the macro system and community subunits (see for example, Mulroy, 2000; 1997; 1995a; 1988; Mulroy & Shay, 1997; Mulroy & Shay, 1998; Mulroy & Lauber, 2002). The reported findings suggest that a community’s physical envi- ronment is tightly linked with the social environment; patterns of land use such as urban sprawl can determine the status of a community’s health and the well-being of its residents; and in the global economy economic decisions made by multi-national firms with no national or local community affiliation or loy- alty profoundly affect both. The gentrification of a community will serve to il- lustrate these concepts.
Example: Gentrification. Staying with the theme of neighborhood and con- centrated poverty introduced at the beginning of the paper, the concept of gentri- fication is used to illustrate two main points; namely the decline of urban neighborhoods and urban sprawl.
First, the decline of many urban neighborhoods was part of a larger pattern of urbanization and sprawl that occurred over decades. Federal and state housing and urban policies, for example, are examples of vertical links that attempted to respond to urban blight in inner city neighborhoods and central business districts by targeting deteriorating commercial districts and residential neighborhoods for revitalization. Housing is a connector between the physical and social envi- ronments in all neighborhoods, including those targeted for gentrification. Housing concerns affordability, security, safety, health, neighbor and social re- lations, and confers status. The location of housing determines a household’s ac- cess to facilities, services, jobs, transportation systems, safety, and quality schools (Mulroy, 1995a; 1988). It affects the formation of social networks, and thus the ability of residents to build social and human capital (Coleman, 1988; Wilson, 1996). Federal and state housing policies require cities and counties to have land use plans, and housing is a core element.
The increasingly high cost of suburban housing made the revitalized districts attractive to many people who worked in the central business district and they were enticed to move back into the urban core. The return of upper- and mid- dle-income people to the central city was an explicit public policy and an eco- nomic development goal of gentrification. New mixed-income communities were created that stabilized entire city blocks. Gentrified neighborhoods, how- ever, tended to displace and disperse many local very-low income residents and furthered their downward mobility in search of rental housing they could afford
84 ADMINISTRATION IN SOCIAL WORK
(Mulroy, 1988). Most urban neighborhoods, however, did not receive public and private investments for gentrification.
From the political economy perspective, the processes of urbanization such as real estate and financial lending decisions made by national and multi-na- tional firms with vertical ties to a neighborhood–and bolstered by help from sup- portive federal housing and urban development policies–changed the spatial organization of communities with serious impacts on poor neighborhoods (Feagin, 1998). For example, our understanding of where people live in a city and why they live there has traditionally been guided by concentric zone theory developed in the 1920s. Simply put, ecological processes result in city growth and development that evolve outward in five zones of concentric rings: (1) the central business district, (2) transitional manufacturing zone, (3) worker housing close to low-wage manufacturing jobs, (4) higher income housing, and (5) the suburbs. (See Fellin, 2001 for a more complete discussion.) The theory of hous- ing filtration postulates that as low-wage households in worker housing save money they would seek better housing and move out to the next residential zone, freeing up their multi-family housing for the next group of low-wage workers, typically new immigrant groups. Housing “filtered” down in this pattern of sup- ply and demand. Over time, this “filtering” of the housing market was the basis for private builders to construct new housing in the suburbs. Housing has always been a private market function in America, and therefore private developers ra- tionally build where the demand for expensive housing and therefore greater profits will be highest–the suburbs. It was assumed that there would always be an adequate supply of housing stock for the poor in older inner-neighborhoods (Mulroy, 1995b).
Second, the effects of urban sprawl have restructured communities and nei- ther concentric zone theory nor housing filtration may work as theorized. When a neighborhood was gentrified “reverse” housing filtration took place. Neighborhoods had vertical ties to aspects of the macro system, particularly through political, economic, and organizational linkages (Warren, 1978). For example, as manufacturing wound down and firms relocated to cheaper points of production in the suburbs, rural “exurbs,” or to international locations with cheaper labor costs, inner-city plants were closed and often abandoned. Neigh- borhoods around them began to decline. Many insurance companies and banks not horizontally linked in the neighborhood’s interactional field habitually de- nied loans to home buyers and small entrepreneurs in many of these deteriorat- ing inner-city neighborhoods. Red lines were drawn on maps to identify communities in which investment was considered a bad risk. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 made this practice of redlining neighborhoods ille- gal, but it still persists, resulting in large pockets of urban decline.
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 85
Low-income residents who lived there had limited access to jobs that paid a living wage and thus no ability to save and move out to zones with better housing and living conditions. Absentee landlords, not horizontally linked in the com- munity’s interactional field, owned most multi-family housing and apartment buildings in declining inner-city neighborhoods as investments to make money. Rather than make needed repairs, they often let buildings run down and aban- doned them. Residents had no access to capital to purchase or improve the hous- ing in which they lived, or to start or improve a business. The impacts of the flow of capital out of these neighborhoods and the absence of vertical links for posi- tive community building purposes can be seen today in urban neighborhoods rife with rising poverty, failing schools, abandoned buildings, poor public ser- vices, and increased levels of crime (Richmond, 2000).
At the time these neighborhoods were in decline, highway construction pro- liferated from central business districts out to the sprawling new suburbs. Less expensive housing was built in rural areas far from central cities but near new super highways. This made it easier for commuters to get to work in the central cities but the highways cut through and divided the old working class inner-city neighborhoods in the process. Traffic congestion and air pollution increased as these new patterns of land use development were repeated across America.
The point of the gentrification example is to highlight how dynamic changes in a specific geographic community are driven by external forces that may work to decrease the strength of local horizontal ties as vertical ties to dis- tant but influential and powerful sources increase. Such vertical ties, however, may have negative or positive impacts on a target community as the gentrifica- tion example illustrates. While some vertical ties served to extract capital, oth- ers were used to infuse capital and improve neighborhood conditions.
This conceptualization helps the practitioner to monitor local community conditions in terms of the patterns of horizontal and vertical links. That analysis can then be related to: (1) the structure of the housing market relative to the availability of safe, habitable, and affordable housing, (2) location of public transit lines relative to employment for low-wage workers, (3) access to finan- cial capital (banks, credit unions), basic needs (groceries, pharmacy, clothing stores, health clinics, public schools), social capital (outreach offices for social services, family support centers), (4) physically safe and environmentally healthy places for children to play, and (5) culturally appropriate services for new immigrant groups.
Level 1–The Organization
Both macro level forces in Level 3 and the ways they are executed and imple- mented in Level 2, in turn, influence individual agencies. It is understood that many agencies are not community-oriented, but because their client groups may
86 ADMINISTRATION IN SOCIAL WORK
live in unhealthy and unsafe neighborhood environments, civic infrastructure is a matter for agency concern.
The model of Organization-in-Environment (Figure 1) makes the following three assumptions. First, the organization’s internal/external boundary is porous, so environmental surveillance and solution-finding are continuous and therefore strategic. Second, social workers need to be active community leaders at the deci- sion making table when complex coalitions are formed, issued framed and de- bated, tough political decisions made, and Solutions created (see arrows in Figure 1). Since an environment is dynamic, changes to agency structure, resource base, or functions can be anticipated not only from the organizational life cycle perspective (Hasenfeld & Schmid, 1989) but also from an ecological perspective as adapta- tions to the influences from Levels 3 and 2. Third, organizational behavior is guided by effectiveness, efficiency, and equity criteria. Effectiveness and effi- ciency are considered criteria for good internal management generally. Equity re- flects the social justice criteria and all three criteria need to be in balance as noted in Figure 1. Two theoretical perspectives are introduced next; namely, organiza- tional-environment relations and inter-organizational collaboration.
Organizational-Environment Relations. The relationship between formal or- ganizations and their external environments has interested a number of organi- zational sociologists and social work theorists for many years (Aldrich, 1979; Alter & Hague, 1993; Gummer, 1990; Hasenfeld, 1983; Lawrence & Lorsch, 1969; Schmid, 1992; 2000; Zald, 1970). Theorists once differentiated between a general environment of remote factors in the macro system and a task environ- ment of more immediate exchanges and negotiations (Hasenfeld, 1983). Schmid (2000) suggests that technological advances have eliminated the difference be- tween the two. An organization’s environment can now be characterized by eco- nomic, cultural, political, social, technological, and socio-demographic factors that actually or potentially affect the organization (p. 136). We will build on Schmid’s assessment and examine dimensions of the environment as cast by Aldrich (1979) in terms of our conceptual framework in Figure 1. Following Aldrich’s (1979) analysis based on population ecology theory and organiza- tional change, there are six dimensions in the external environment that exert pressures for organizational change.
• Environmental capacity refers to the level of resources available to an or- ganization in its environment. A resource-rich environment has a plethora of sub-units ready to meet community needs, and also to serve as partners in inter-organizational plans. A resource-poor environment has few organi- zations and services, with the attendant implications both for residents in need of services and for organizations in need of partners to better serve residents.
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 87
• Environmental homogeneity or heterogeneity involves the degree of simi- larity or difference between elements in the environment. These can be pop- ulations, organizations, individuals, and social forces affecting resources. The more homogenous, or similar, the elements in the environment are, the simpler organizational activities need to be.
• Environmental stability or instability relates to the degree of turnover of elements of the environment. The more stable the elements in a commu- nity the easier it is for organizations to maintain routinized operations and the same structure. The residential mobility of different demographic groups in or out of a neighborhood, or the closure and abandonment of stores pose destabilizing elements in the environment.
• Environmental concentration or dispersion refers to the degree to which resources are evenly distributed across the environment or concentrated in particular locations. This refers to the concentration of populations as with concentrated poverty and the decisions of firms and organizations to re- main or move from the neighborhood. It also refers to the concentration of organizations that cluster together to serve a particular population such as hospitals, medical schools, laboratories, clinics, and related health services that serve people who are ill.
• Domain consensus-dissensus involves the degree to which an organiza- tion’s claim to a specific domain is recognized or disputed by other organi- zations, particularly its public sector and private philanthropic funders. Hasenfeld (1983) considers this dimension in detail because it is central to a human service organization’s acquisition of resources, legitimacy, and negotiating position.
• Environmental turbulence relates to the extent to which environments are characterized by an increasing interconnection between elements and trends, and by an increasing rate of interconnection. Community control and uniqueness seen in locally owned and operated stores, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and associations of civic groups have given way to increased linkages to national and global agents, labor forces, cultures, regulations, and controls.
In reality these six dimensions of an organization’s environment combine to create the enormous complexity of factors that confront organizations and com- munities (Aldrich, 1979; Hasenfeld, 1983).
Theory of Interorganizational Collaboration. Social workers are exposed to environmental complexities when they work with other agencies for purposes of service integration, community conferencing, public-private partnerships, coali- tions, or interorganizational collaborations. Researchers from a range of disci- plines are working to develop a theory of collaboration. They are interested in
88 ADMINISTRATION IN SOCIAL WORK
interorganizational collaboration because it is a way for practitioners to respond proactively to multiple environmental constraints and threats, and build coali- tions and collaborations to advance social justice goals. Barbara Gray (1989) states, “collaboration is a process through which parties who see different as- pects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for so- lutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible” (p. 5). The purpose is to create a richer, more comprehensive appreciation for a problem among stakeholders than any one of them could envision alone. Her findings suggest that collaboration is a new negotiated interorganizational order that em- phasizes the cognitive and expressive character of relations. This perspective presents a dynamic, process-oriented theory of interorganizational relations and accounts for the contextual influences on interorganizational dynamics (p. 244).
In a ground-breaking study by Alter and Hague (1993) they contend that the growing number of partnerships, alliances, joint ventures, consortia, obligational and systemic networks represent a stunning evolutionary change in institu- tional forms of governance. They predict that interorganizational networks are the future institution (p. 13). Such interorganizational forms have four nor- mative characteristics in common: they are cognitive structures, are non-hierar- chical, have a division of labor, and interorganizational production networks are self-regulating. Kanter (1994) found collaborations were future-oriented, living systems that evolve progressively.
Collaboration gets more difficult to do the closer it gets to the community (Wiener, 1990). Himmelman (1992) contends that a collaboration has one of two agendas; it can work toward achieving community betterment or it can work toward community empowerment, and the processes for each will be different. In community betterment the collaboration is typically created externally and brought into a target community. The residents may be participants but are not relied on as change agents. In community empowerment the venture originates in the target community and its residents are considered co-producers of the proc- ess. In a study of community-based collaboration to reduce child abuse and ne- glect, Mulroy (1997) found that for collaboration to succeed it needs a planned pace of development to match the readiness and resources of stakeholders. Com- munity-based collaborating was found to be a learned skill that yielded rewards and benefits but was difficult to do (Mulroy & Shay, 1998).
Alter (2000) notes that the initial phase of inter-organizational collaboration in- volves seeking partners and overcoming resistance to change, a political process that requires strategic thinking and skills in negotiation and conflict resolution. “To identify likely partners, managers should study the distribution of power and resources horizontally and vertically throughout the community or region” (Alter, 2000, p. 293). She suggests that a vital and incremental process of sorting ensues
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 89
through an “incredibly large number of interactions both between individuals in informal settings and among groups in semiformal and formal meetings” (p. 293).
Applying the Organization-in-Environment Framework
The implications of the theories related to Levels 1-3 in Figure 1 for nonprofit management and leadership are described in this section using the issue of home- lessness and the creation of a unique organization. It begins with the Housing Assis- tance Corporation, a regional nonprofit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts that opened its doors in 1974 in response to seasonal rental shifts in the tourist-de- pendent economy that helped to create homelessness. The agency’s mission is to promote and implement the right of all people on Cape Cod and the islands (Mar- tha’s Vineyard and Nantucket) to occupy safe and affordable housing. The organi- zation’s publications and web site highlight its position as a prominent advocate for social and economic justice in the region. The nonprofit has eight program areas in which it operates at least 23 distinct programs and centers, including six service-in- tensive shelters located throughout the region for distinct populations of the home- less such as single persons, parents with children, and persons with addictions. Agency programs are supported with diversified funding from public and private sources and from fundraising and donations. There is an active 30-person Board of Directors with constituent members and a number of community advisory councils for separate programs. In 2001 more than 5,000 households received help through the numerous programs it runs.
Housing Assistance Corporation is poised to help find a solution to one of so- ciety’s most difficult problems–homelessness. It is approaching this in part by addressing environmental constraints and opportunities, understanding the hori- zontal and vertical ties, collaborating strategically, and thinking and acting region- ally. To begin, the agency has domain consensus (Aldrich, 1979; Hasenfeld, 1983) with undisputed legitimacy as the region’s expert in affordable housing. It became the sole provider on Cape Cod of emergency shelter for families and indi- viduals experiencing homelessness, and also the creator and administrator of vari- ous first-time home buyer, housing development, rental assistance, rehabilitation, and homeless prevention programs. This range of expertise and experience facili- tated its acquisition of federal and state funds, particularly U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resources to support its work.
Its environment can be characterized by heterogeneity and instability (Aldrich, 1979; Hasenfeld, 1983). The population of low-income and disadvan- taged persons needing affordable housing is extremely diverse. There are elders who need fuel assistance; landlords with apartments seeking tenants, and tenants with Section 8 certificates seeking apartments; young families seeking afford- able home ownership; homeless shelter residents in need of a car to get to work,
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or vocational training, or health and mental health services. The environment is unstable relative to the population because of seasonal migration. The wealthy arrive in summer to enjoy their beach houses. Tourists flock to the seashore and resorts. Retirees relocate for the quality of life. The seasonal tourist economy brings in low-wage workers who cannot afford a place to live.
Using social justice as its core principle of practice the organization re-framed the problem of homelessness from an individual one to a community and societal one (Ife, 1996; Patti, 2000). To begin, it considers community build- ing (Mulroy & Lauber, 2002) to be the means through which it can best achieve its mission. Since 1974, it brought more than $200 million into the economy in the Cape and islands region to provide more than “housing assistance”–support- ing people to take or retain control over their lives. Since 1993 the organization has helped more than 3000 families keep their homes.
Environmental surveillance has been a component of its strategic management (Level 1). Staff six years ago came to believe that shelters that create dependency are not the solution to homelessness. The agency set about finding a better re- sponse. One program manager (an MSW Licensed Social Work Manager) sug- gested the need for a peaceful, pleasant setting where disadvantaged people could come together as members of a real community–a place to belong–with apart- ments for which they pay rent, educational and vocational training, and work. Basing her model on a working farm for homeless people in Denmark where she had lived and worked, from the very beginning, the project would be done in a way that would have lasting benefits for the local community. The concept, called Dana’s Fields, was based on the belief that we all need a stable foundation on which to build our lives, and we are all healthier when we are part of a strong and loving community, rather than excluded and isolated from it.
Environmental surveillance included monitoring the effects of federal and state housing policy on the structure of the housing market in the nation, their state (Level 3) and region (Level 2). For example, federal and state funds for affordable housing had been drastically cut back in recent years. Local housing prices soared. Many persons locked out of the state’s urban and suburban housing markets mi- grated to the Cape, increasing demand for affordable units. Affordable rental units were not available in summer months. Persons with substance abuse and mental illness and no homes were more visible among the homeless. Organizational lead- ership carefully analyzed horizontal and vertical ties (Warren, 1978). The pro- gram manager used resources from Level 3–the Homeless Assistance division of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)–to secure a planning grant so she could systematically develop her idea. Innovative homeless organizations in other parts of the country were studied.
Support for the project was gathered through community outreach, which in this context meant intensive involvement in external relationship building with
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 91
local organizations horizontally linked and with those vertically tied to the larger society (Warren, 1978). The process of plan development increased environ- mental turbulence (Aldrich, 19979) as interconnections between elements in the organization’s external environment increased. The organization’s leaders en- gaged in face-to-face meetings with members of regional public boards, land use commissions, town Zoning Board of Appeals, civic and economic development groups, resistive NIMBY (not in my back yard) groups and their attorneys, as well as local, state, and national print and television media. They engaged in marketing, negotiation, and conflict resolution to interpret the program’s philos- ophy to diverse stakeholders; namely, to overcome homelessness clients need stable and decent housing, relevant and appropriate paying jobs, respectability, accountability, and a belief in their own potential. This phase of their work was a process through which “parties who see different aspects of a problem can con- structively explore their differences, and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible” as Gray (1989, p. 5) predicted.
Over the next few years, organizational leadership, driven by the belief that housing is a basic right, actively sought out collaborative partners for support, in-kind services, programming, and financing. They reached a myr- iad of public, private, and nonprofit institutions, local citizens groups, and in- dividuals in their region and beyond; a step Alter (2000) found necessary in the formation and start-up of an interorganizational collaboration. As Gray’s (1989) theory of collaboration suggests, the process did create a more com- prehensive appreciation of the problem of homelessness among diverse stakeholders than any one of them could envision alone. The intensity and time commitment required to build external relationships meant that person- nel at the office attended to internal operations, especially the financial man- agement of numerous grants and contracts, so that organizational efficiency and program effectiveness criteria were met.
The organization raised the needed financial capital (half funded by HUD) and purchased 46 acres in a Cape Cod town to build and develop Dana’s Fields. An industrial park, residential areas, and open space surround the site. The phys- ical plan will include sixty units of affordable housing constructed as six build- ings of ten units each; three market-rate staff residences; a community building with guest rooms, culinary arts program, and a chapel; a paddock, barn, stable, and riding trails; greenhouse; farm stand; and chicken coop. Six training pro- grams will operate on site. The industrial park is seen as an opportunity for resi- dent employment. The project has strong local roots. Local citizens participated in planning and guiding development. They will be able to use the facilities and serve on Dana’s Fields tenant selection committee (www.danasfields.org).
Dana’s Fields is a relationship-based program not a treatment-based pro- gram. Housing Assistance Corporation hopes that Dana’s Fields will turn
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around individual lives (fulfilling its mission in Level 1), create a community built on acceptance and compassion (Level 2), and challenge institutional bar- riers in the housing market that have accelerated the slide into homelessness for vulnerable people (Level 3).
THEORY FOR PRACTICE WITHIN A SOCIAL JUSTICE CONTEXT
This paper has presented a conceptual framework of how theories about the social environment can inform practice using principles of social justice.
The Organization-in-Environment approach seeks to capture the dynamic na- ture of complex events and relationships, external to an organization’s bound- aries, as they continuously emerge, intertwine, and evolve. The model depicts a social environment in which communities and organizations are part of larger systems or levels of influence. Societal forces–particularly those driven by eco- nomic globalization and its supportive public policies– impact communities and organizations, as illustrated in the privatization and gentrification examples. When organizations use social justice goals to help guide behavior in their social environments, they are capable of creating meaningful solutions to social prob- lems, as demonstrated in the example of an agency addressing homelessness.
The theoretical concepts selected for illustrating the organization-in-environ- ment framework (e.g., political economy, vertical and horizontal linkages, orga- nization-environmental relations, and interorganizational collaboration) can be used to guide and inform a more comprehensive understanding of communities as they exist today and the role of social organizations within them. Using War- ren’s (1978) framework, a community can be understood as a node in the current macro system, and organizations as institutional actors within multiple nodes. The restructured community in the global economy makes Warren’s form of community analysis– horizontal and vertical ties–more timely than ever.
There is a compelling need to build civil society and social work leadership is needed. One way is through organizational leadership committed to strengthen- ing people and communities at the same time. This compelling need raises the following challenges for social work practitioners and educators:
• How do we engage the imperative for social justice when so many non- profit organizations are struggling to survive?
• How do we create a caring society? • How do we prepare future [practitioners] social workers for organizational
leadership in a political environment in which privatization and corporate accountability are so highly valued?
Elizabeth A. Mulroy 93
• How do we teach theory for practice in a way that inspires commitment to the nonprofit and public sectors?
If interorganizational networks are the future institution as Alter and Hague (1993) suggest, and nonprofit leaders play key roles in them as conveners, negoti- ators and brokers as Kanter (2000) suggests, then an emphasis on external rela- tions–the Organization-In-Environment approach–is an important starting point.
I am reminded of the words of Michael Harrington (1984) who wrote, “The structures of misery were created by men and women; they can be changed by men and women. That we shall see is easier said than done-but it can be done” (p. 12). If we educate our students to keep the vision of social justice at the center of their practice and prepare them with the knowledge, values, and attitudes to make a difference in the social environment, they will be better prepared to cre- ate the new structures of opportunity that Harrington envisions, and the goals of social work will be advanced.
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