Abstract: Capacity Building Projects: Developing Critical Consciousness through Action (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Capacity Building Projects: Developing Critical Consciousness through Action

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Dora Watkins, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Richmond Hayes, Research Assistant, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Ellen Benoit, PhD, Senior Investigator, Senior Investigator, Newark, NJ
Darris Hawkins, High School, Peer Facilitator, North Jersey Community Research Initiative, Newark, NJ
Alexis Jemal, JD, PhD, Associate Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Historically, community organizing has been an important strategy in social change and a critical skill taught in social work. However, community organizing is rarely recognized as a clinical social work skill. This is a missed opportunity given the increasing interest in multi-level interventions that address individual behaviors and community problems simultaneously. In Community Wise, we use social work clinical skills to mobilize intervention participants to develop capacity building projects (CBP) that are designed to improve community health. The goal is to raise participants’ ability to have deep understanding about social determinants of health at the intersection of substance misuse (SM) and incarceration while effectively engaging in action to promote health equity. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss findings from an exploratory qualitative analysis of CBP voice-recorded sessions and focus group interviews with participants of the Community Wise Optimization Trial to examine their engagement in critical action.

Methods: A random sample of 50% of CBP voice recorded sessions available from the Community Wise Optimization Trial were included in the analysis (24 intervention groups and a total of 45 recorded sessions). Audio recordings were coded by two doctoral level research assistants using an a priori table to identify: 1) CBP topics selected by participants; 2) common patterns among groups that successfully implemented projects and among those that did not; and 3) Develop hypothesis about possible mechanisms of change mediating the relationship between CBP and critical consciousness. The independent coding was compared and adjusted until 100% consensus was reached.

Results: CBP included 6 one-hour long sessions where participants identified critical social determinants of health they wanted to address in their community. Six groups focused on reducing homelessness, 5 groups developed mentoring activities for youth, 3 aimed to increase service access, and others focused on safety, health and nutrition, mental health, and voter registration. CBP included a variety of activities such as writing letters to elected officials, raising funds to support health equity projects, registering people to vote, volunteering in the community, and disseminating health information. Ten out of 24 groups successfully completed their project. Participants in groups that completed their project reported feeling safe in the group; drawing upon one another’s knowledge about the community, and engagement. Successful groups were able to identify a community issue quickly, took initiative in conducting the necessary research, delegated tasks clearly, and included participants that followed through with the tasks. The biggest challenges to successfully implementing a CBP was irregular attendance, the short length of the intervention, and poor follow-through. These groups never reached consensus on a project topic. Regardless of project completion, participants displayed windows of critical consciousness that opened and closed throughout the sessions. Participants questioned their own assumptions, felt empowered to realize they have a role in shaping their community, and expressed interest in improving health.

Conclusions and Implications: CBP were useful in helping participants open windows of critical consciousness as they examined power relations in their community, questioned racist, sexist, and classist beliefs, and implemented CBP projects.