The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

Measures for Community Engagement and Collective Efficacy in Community-Based Research: Opportunities and Challenges

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 1:30 PM-3:15 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon B, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Organizations, Management, and Communities
Mary Ohmer, PhD, Georgia State University, Laurie A. Walker, MSW, PhD, Arizona State University and Ronald Pitner, PhD, University of South Carolina
Purpose:  Social work researchers are increasingly including measures for community engagement and collective efficacy in community-based research to advance social change locally and globally.  Research demonstrates the positive impact of community engagement and collective efficacy on the lives of individuals and families in disadvantaged neighborhoods (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh & Vidal, 2001; Sampson & Raudenbush, 1997; Sampson & Graif, 2009).  For example, collective efficacy is associated with the ability of a community to prevent and solve neighborhood problems, such crime and violence.  Yet, a fragmented literature base hinders knowledge building.  Roundtable leaders will discuss measures of community engagement and collective efficacy that are currently being used in social work and lead a dialogue focused on strategies for considering the psychometric strengths and limitations of existing measures and building consensus to address psychometric limitations.

Methods:  Three social work researchers who engage in community-based research will discuss their work and invite participants to discuss and debate strategies for improving the consistency, reliability and validity of various community engagement and collective efficacy measurement approaches.  Discussants will briefly describe the theories and prior research informing their measures.  Discussants will then discuss how they have used and/or adapted these measures in their own community-based research, including the reliability and validity of these measures. 

The discussants will present community engagement and collective efficacy measures they have used in studies of neighborhoods with high concentrations of public housing, research on the effects of citizen engagement on neighborhood volunteers and the impact of community based interventions on participants, such as crime prevention and reduction programs.  Community engagement is broadly defined as the active, voluntary involvement of individuals and groups to change problematic conditions in low-income communities, as well as influence the policies and programs that affect residents’ quality of life (Gamble & Weil, 1995).  The following community engagement measures will be discussed:  involvement/participation in neighborhood organizations, neighborhood activism, and neighborhood attachment/sense of community.  Collective efficacy describes residents’ perceptions regarding their ability to work with their neighbors to intervene in neighborhood issues to maintain social control and solve problems (Wandersman & Florin, 2000).  The following collective efficacy measures will be discussed:  organizational collective efficacy, neighborhood collective efficacy including social cohesion/ties, friendship networks, and social control, and residents’ likelihood and attitudes toward intervening in neighborhood problems. The measures used in these studies were found to have mixed reliability (alpha scores ranging from .63 to .94) and validity.  In addition, the researchers conducted exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to determine scale structure.   Discussants will compare and contrast the measures used in their own research, including scale structure and items. Strategies for improving the reliability and validity of these measures in social work and community-based research will be discussed and debated.

Contribution: Community engagement and collective efficacy are key strategies in addressing local and global problems, particularly in low-income communities.  Without valid and reliable measures, social work researchers will not be able to examine the effectiveness of their interventions nor contribute to changes in practice and policies that affect disadvantaged populations and communities. 


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