The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Researching Ways to Promote Community Action and Social Change

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Organizations, Management, and Communities
Symposium Organizer:
Elizabeth A. Segal, PhD, Arizona State University
Although research is often regarded by other disciplines as objective fact-finding that is distant from social action, social work has historically used research findings to promote social change.  From the earliest needs assessments conducted through settlement houses to the case analyses and service utilization assessments of the Charity Organization Society workers, findings from the field have been used to advocate for social services and social policies.  The field of social work has an indelible mark on the use of research as a tool to promote systemic and social change.  This symposium reports on three different research approaches to use as conduits to effecting social change:  1) how community-based organizations (CBOs) can influence redevelopment planning, 2) how participatory action research (PAR) can promote better services for and community engagement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified (LGBTQ) young people, and 3) how understanding an assessment tool on social empathy can identify variables key to social understanding that can lead to action intended to promote social change.

The first paper in this symposium analyzes multiple forms of qualitative data from resident advisory councils in two urban neighborhoods. CBOs and residents worked together to plan for mixed income redevelopment, a model designed to address problems associated with concentrated poverty that is the result of disinvestment.  The findings revealed that collaborative support is needed between residents and CBOs to maintain organizing pressure to promote social change. The history for community engagement of each neighborhood played a role in the experience of resident participation, and therefore needs to be assessed in preparation for resident involvement in community planning and action.

Conducting research with the intention of taking action for social change is a primary goal of PAR.  The second paper in this symposium used PAR with LGBTQ young people to identify factors associated with the process that would promote well-being at the individual, group and community levels.  Eight young people between 18 and 24 years old were involved in a 16 week PAR study design and implementation process to increase youth voices in shaping their community and social services.  Four primary themes (relationships, communication, participation and inclusion) emerged that are critical in developing action outcomes and meaningful community engagement.

The third paper examines the relationship between interpersonal empathy and social empathy, two factors associated with attitudes leading to social action behaviors. Using latent class analysis of a sample of 450 undergraduate students, a full model of nine classes of high, medium and low levels of interpersonal and social empathy were statistically identified.  The results revealed that interpersonal empathy and social empathy are related, providing a measurable starting point for identifying empathic abilities to promote social change. 

Together, these three papers provide empirical findings illustrating the impact of using research methodologies to effect social change.  Symposium participants will gain a deeper understanding of several ways that researchers can employ research strategies that both gain empirical insights as well as lay a foundation for social action and engagement.  Implications for further research will also be discussed.

* noted as presenting author
The Role of Community Based Organizations in Public Housing Redevelopment Planning
Laurie A. Walker, MSW, PhD, Arizona State University; Jean East, PhD, University of Denver
Measuring Social Empathy: Tool for Researchers to Effect Social Change
Elizabeth A. Segal, PhD, Arizona State University
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