Session: Systems Thinking and Systems Science in Community and Neighborhood Research (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

183 Systems Thinking and Systems Science in Community and Neighborhood Research

Friday, January 13, 2023: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
Cluster: Communities and Neighborhoods
Andrew Foell, MSW, MPP, Washington University in Saint Louis
Natalie Pope, MBA, MSSW, CSW, Rutgers University, Katherine Marçal, PhD, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Kirk Foster, PhD, University of South Carolina, Daniel Brisson, PhD, University of Denver and Richard Smith, PhD, Wayne State University
Communities and neighborhoods face complex, interrelated challenges. These challenges, which include issues of poverty, homelessness, violence, and many others, have multiple underlying causes, unclear solutions, and interact in ways that generate behaviors that are unpredictable, constantly evolving, and resistant to change (Auspos & Cabaj, 2014). Additionally, addressing one problem may lead to unintended consequences for others when issues are addressed in isolation rather than as an interconnected system (Foster-Fishman et al., 2007). Systems thinking and systems science have emerged as useful orienting frames and empirical methodologies for understanding and addressing problems in these complex adaptive systems. These approaches view problems as cumulative, nonlinear, and dynamic, and seek to identify and implement solutions that are uniquely equipped to change behaviors of systems.

The social work profession has long embraced systems perspectives of problems. However, the utilization of systems science within social work research, policy, and practice has been minimal. Traditional linear, cause-and-effect approaches may mask the complexity of social issues and provide an incomplete, perhaps inaccurate, understanding. Such approaches may also insufficiently explain system behaviors and provide minimal guidance for system interventions (Spruill, Kenney, & Kaplan, 2003). Rigorous system approaches to framing problems and solutions offer promise for innovations in long entrenched social issues that impact neighborhoods and communities such as poverty, segregation, and homelessness.

This roundtable will advance a dialogue on systems thinking and systems science in the context of community and neighborhood research. The session organizer will provide an overview of systems thinking and systems science methodologies including social network analysis (SNA), agent-based modeling (ABM), and system dynamics (SD). Next, each presenter will provide applications of systems science methodologies within current projects that advance racial and social justice. One presenter will discuss the use of social network analysis to understand community partnerships among a cohort of age-friendly initiatives. Another presenter will discuss applications of system dynamics to issues of housing equity and solutions to homelessness. Another presenter will discuss a community-based randomized controlled trial of guaranteed basic income for people experiencing homelessness and the challenges of capturing spillover effects. The next presenter will share insights from a national study on water and health systems about how community resilience depends on the interface between systems. The last presenter will discuss the application of community-based model building and system dynamics to police reform where law enforcement agencies and community leaders identify issues and co-create solutions. Finally, all presenters will discuss implications for social work research, policy, and practice, with attention to the utilization of systems science to advance social justice through solution-oriented policy.

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