Abstract: Resilience and Routine As Components of Organizational Mindfulness in Home Visitation (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Resilience and Routine As Components of Organizational Mindfulness in Home Visitation

Thursday, January 17, 2019: 2:00 PM
Union Square 16 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Stephen Edward McMillin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Epidemiology, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO
Jason T. Carbone, MSW, Doctoral Student, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose                                                                                   

For the individual, engaging in mindfulness practices is seen as having several generally beneficial effects, including developing greater sensitivity to one’s surroundings, greater openness to new sources of information, greater ability to use new categories to structure perception, and greater awareness of multiple perspectives. Extending the concept of mindfulness to the entire organization, Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) elaborate how mindful organizations avoid and contain operational errors to become high-reliability organizations. In social work, children’s services have been increasingly reorganized to enhance mindfulness and avoid systematic service delivery errors that can result in consequences such as child fatalities. This study investigates how administrators of early childhood home visitation programs assess their agencies and programs for characteristics of mindful, high-reliability organizations.



In-depth, semi-structured, qualitative interviews approximately 90-120 minutes in length were conducted with 34 program administrators in a Midwestern, statewide network of home visiting programs.  Interviews were transcribed, coded thematically, and subjected to content analysis. Organizational reliability was defined for respondents and they were asked to respond with an assessment of organizational reliability for their programs. A total of 79 references to organizational reliability were analyzed.



This analysis found two primary thematic topics. Organizational reliability was framed as processes that: 1) built up organizational resilience, and 2) were rooted in stable organizational routines. Organizational resilience was described in two ways, through organizational survival of unexpected emergencies as well as supervisory grit that persevered through chronic scarcity. Respondents related emergency situations where home visitors worked out of their cars for months on end and used public library computers as informal offices when their agency buildings flooded, lost power, or were condemned. Respondents also highlighted cases when gritty supervisors made home visits themselves for weeks when home visitors were suddenly laid off, only to hire and train new staff weeks later when funding was restored. Organizational routines were framed as embedded in home visiting program models that could be both supported and distorted by the agency housing the program.  Home visiting supervisors noted the stabilizing power of some requirements of home visiting program models, such as regular reflective supervision sessions in which staff candidly shared what went wrong as well as right on a visit and reflected together with the supervisor about what to do next. These unusual features of home visiting models were diversely supported or overrode by individual agencies, with overrides including rigid requirements for office hours, prohibitions on cell phone use or texting, and additional documentation requirements that made some respondents wish that home visiting programs were freestanding and independent of larger organizations.


Conclusions and Implications

Organizational mindfulness is an innovative conceptual framework that informs how social services such as home visiting programs can strengthen operational reliability and consistency. Future research is needed to assess under what conditions reliability and consistency are able to mitigate the challenges of organizational overrides and chronic scarcity.


Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the unexpected: Resilient performance in an age of uncertainty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.