Advancing Community-Based Research: Using Community Practice Theories to Inform Community-Level Interventions

Sunday, January 18, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Balconies L, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Organizations, Management, and Communities
Mary L. Ohmer, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, Marie Weil, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Joanne L. Sobeck, PhD, Wayne State University and Valerie B. Shapiro, PhD, University of California, Berkeley
Community-level interventions address fundamental community problems, including economic, physical, and social issues (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001; author, 1996). While the focus is on community-level change, interventions also impact individual, organizational, and policy or system-wide outcomes (author, 2008).  There is a need for researchers to base their work on solid community practice theories, but a fragmented literature on these theories hinders research that builds knowledge for effective community-level interventions. This roundtable will discuss community practice theories highly relevant to community-level intervention research and the evidence for specific community practice theories as demonstrated through research.

The first discussant will present an overview of community practice theories that inform the understanding, development, and testing of community-level interventions, including personal and interpersonal theories such as self-efficacy; group theories including collective efficacy and empowerment; organizational learning, coalition theory, inter-organizational service system change, and asset-based development. Evidence from service system change research and asset development will be presented.

The second discussant will present self- and neighborhood collective efficacy theory and share empirical evidence from community-based crime prevention interventions. Bandura’s (1982) theory of self-efficacy suggests that residents who have strong beliefs in their capabilities approach potential stressors with the assurance that they can exercise some control over them.  Collective efficacy, the connection of mutual trust and social cohesion along with shared expectations for intervening in support of informal social control, is associated with decreased crime and violence (Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997).  Evidence will be presented that demonstrates the ability to develop self-and collective efficacy among residents; participants in the program significantly increased their willingness to intervene in neighborhood problems and their levels of social cohesion and trust. 

The third discussant will present organizational empowerment theory, organizational development theory, and community development theory, and share empirical evidence from four studies and a consulting practice with five organizational capacity building initiatives focused on enhancing the effectiveness and sustainability of nonprofits. Capacity-building requires practice theories at the intersection of the individual, organization, and community (Peterson & Zimmerman, 2004). Results point to a need to a) seek greater input from participants about the sequencing and typologies of services, and b) further operationalize readiness for change. The results also show the potential of capacity building strategies informed by empowerment theory for outcome achievement among nonprofit groups.

The fourth discussant will present theories of coalition functioning (e.g., Florin et al., 1993; Foster-Fishman, 2001) and positive youth development (e.g., Social Development Model; Catalano & Hawkins, 1996) with evidence from a community-randomized trial of Communities That Care (CTC). Theories of coalition functioning suggest that coalition success is determined not only by their activities, but also by the way the coalition functions as a team and creates community changes. The social developmental model highlights the importance of providing youth with opportunities, skills, and recognition in order to build bonds that motivate pro-social behavior.

Collectively, this roundtable presents diverse community practice theories, supporting evidence, and illustrates the utility of theory for knowledge building, intervention research, and building an evidence-informed community practice in social work.

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