Many problems human service organizations and social workers face are complex and dynamic. The problems are complex because multiple components constitute these large problems, and fully understanding the interdependency of multifaceted aspects of the problem is unwieldy and nearly impossible. For instance, community demands for social work and human service have skyrocketed, particularly during and after the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, attracting and retaining a diverse workforce for community and human service organizations have become increasingly difficult. Multiple internal and external factors contribute to these challenges, including an array of problems from scarcity of resources, worker burnout, administrative burdens for both clients and providers, lack of community voice in organizational governance and program development, lack of community infrastructure (housing, transportation, control of work hours, childcare, paid leave, and/or insurance benefits) to support ongoing consumer access and engagement, pressures to use evidence-based practices and rigorous program evaluation, and low state reimbursement rates. The interconnected and interdependent natures of these components make the problem dynamic. In other words, progressive policymaking in one area, like increases in provider reimbursement rates, often leads to little or slow change in the overall service ecosystem. We argue collaborative conversation across multiple social work research clusters will offer insight into the many dimensions of these complex and dynamic problems and help us identify innovative policy, management, organizing strategies that can be shared broadly to democratize both critical research and practice.
The proposed roundtable brings together thought leaders of three SSWR Special Interest Groups (SIGs): Organizations and Management, Communities and Neighborhoods, and Work and Work-Life Policies and Programs SIGs. These areas of expertise offer insights for cross-cluster engagement that, when put together, offer knowledge that can be mobilized to ask systems-level questions and design sustainable community-level solutions. Karen Hopkins from the Organizations and Management SIG brings experience and research on designing diverse and equitable pipelines for training social workers and retaining talent in our field. Cheryl Hyde and Mary Ohmer from the Communities and Neighborhoods SIGs provide insights into capacity-building and organizing for social equity and facilitating community ability for intervention. Julia Henly and Jodi Frey from the Work and Work-Life Policies and Programs SIG add expertise in removing administrative burdens, providing necessary support for human service providers and consumers, and shaping local labor policy that promotes fair scheduling, leave, and wage increases. This panel will engage in a rigorous discussion about the most critical challenges facing social work in meeting the needs and wants of communities to think through how we can begin leveraging the innovative scholarship from their subfields.