Friday, July 18, 2014

Basing a Leadership Academy’s Curriculum on Ecological Systems

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
July, 2014 

Basing a Leadership Academy’s Curriculum on Ecological Systems

Hana Shahin 


     Four years ago, the Lazord Academy for Civic Leadership was created as part of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo. The main purpose of the Academy was to provide potential civic leaders in all fields with the necessary skills and tools for leading change across many sectors. Some of the civic leaders who participate in our programs work or are interested in the economic development field, human rights, women’s issues, street children, and other social affairs. 

     The Academy has evolved throughout the years as new tracks are added, such as the Civic Professionals program for Lazord Fellows and employees from partner nonprofit organizations, and also as existing tracks get solidified, such as the track of Advocates for Civic Engagement for undergraduate students. All these programs are united with the vision of graduating a generation of civically responsible and skilled leaders that play an active and engaged role across various sectors.

     Lazord’s mission is to empower select AUC students and young civil society leaders by offering them guided opportunities to expand their skills in ethical leadership, civic engagement, and strategic philanthropy. The Academy aims to provide its civic leaders with exposure to the inner workings of civil society through practical experience, workshops, and mentorship. Accordingly, the participants’ academic excellence and personal growth are facilitated in a structured environment that helps them build the bridge between theory and practice. 

     The Academy has been engaged in continuous development this year, with an emphasis on its methodology. When planning for the 2013-2014 academic year, the team  gathered to unify the methodology across all tracks. This process was composed of three main stages: the development of a curriculum map, creation of a methodology based on ecological systems theory, and development of the phases and topics for each ecological system.


     During the first stage, program coordinators developed a curriculum map based on the values and learning outcomes of the Academy. The values of the Academy are proactive citizenship, respect for diversity, participatory practices, reciprocity of learning and service, integrity in learning, knowledge sharing, critical reflection, self-awareness, innovation, and creative problem solving. The desired learning outcomes are for participants to gain exposure to the inner workings of civil society through extensive exposure, practical experience, and mentorship; develop civic leadership skills; empower the community by acting as a catalyst for strategic philanthropy and capacity building; gain professional competencies through numerous opportunities at the professional and self-development levels; and build a professional network and portfolio.

     The step of creating a curriculum map led to the creation of competencies,  inspired by and derived from the community psychology practice competencies (2012), as well as the Gerhart Center’s own standards, and local Arab expertise engaged in the last years of the program. The curriculum map inspired the topics for the curriculum and helped visualize the different phases that students would move through. The phases included Exploration, Discovery/Rationalize, Plan, and Act, all of these derivable from the community psychology practice competencies.

     In stage two, ecological systems surrounding the participants were developed. These systems were inspired by Bronfenbrenner (1977) and Prilleltensky, Nelson and Peirson (2001), who suggest that a person is a part of a community and society – to understand or change the person or the community, one needs to look at all the ecological systems and levels that the community is constructed of: individual, micro, meso, exo, and macro-system levels. 

     Accordingly, for each track, an adaptation of the systems theory was formulated for each training program. For example, the systems for one track were Me, My Cause, and My Community. For the other track, the systems were Me, My Community, Egypt, and the World. Hence the curriculum is constructed of ecological systems surrounding the individual; the core being the discovery of personal potentials surrounded by a micro system, which is nested within community-related systems and workforce practices. Each system division includes sessions that directly affect these ecological systems. For example, the Lazord Civic Professional, a track for young leaders working in non-profit organizations, is composed of Me, My Work, the Cause, and Community/Egypt.

     Following the creation of ecological models for both training programs, stage three involved arranging topics in each ecological system in a way to match the four phases – namely, the progression of Explore, Discover/Rationalize, Plan, and Act, in each of the systems.  Each topic aligned itself to a previous training needs assessment and previous training topics that received high satisfaction rates; topics were also selected based on their alignment with the competencies that the participants should gain. The core of the training program is the skill of critical thinking; accordingly, critical thinking was addressed in all systems.

     After the plan and curriculum were put together, the different tracks were implemented throughout the year. Some difficulties in implementation included the current instability in political structure of Egypt, and the commitment of the trainers and speakers. In addition, it was sometimes difficult for the coordinators of the programs to maintain the new structure, and sometimes challenging for participants to understand the program’s progression.


     Evaluation came after implementation. Formative and summative evaluations of the Academy were conducted in three ways: session evaluations, collective evaluations, and pre/post competencies self-evaluations. Session evaluations were gathered after each session, while collective evaluations were conducted both midway through and at the end of the program.  These evaluations mainly evaluated the trainer, the logistics, and the program as a whole. 

     The pre/post competencies self-evaluations were conducted before and after the program by the participants. These evaluations may have been the most important, because they gave us an idea of the gaps and further needs of the programs, while emphasizing the development of the participants. Although the evaluations provided us with data about the progress of the program and the development of the participants, they have clearly highlighted room for improving the methodology, the curriculum, and most of all the evaluation process for the coming year. Through self-evaluation, the participants indicated progress on some of their competencies while some other competencies stayed the same or deteriorated. Such results indicate a deficiency in our evaluation system. Accordingly, for the next cohort we are compiling all the evaluations to develop the program further, in addition to planning new evaluation methods that will better assess the program’s structure and content. 

     In planning the Academy’s future for the upcoming year, one of the major lessons learned throughout the process is that we need to continue building on the program that we have rather than simply changing our methodology. We concluded that by sticking to our methodology and only using the evaluations of the participants and stakeholders’ views to improve it, we will be able to strengthen our methodology and impact in the long run.

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu.

References
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American     
Psychologist, 32(7), 513-531.

Competencies for Community Psychology Practice.  (2012). Draft paper.  Society for Community   Research And Action, Council on Education Programs and Community Psychology Practice Council, Task Group on Defining Practice Competencies.

Prilleltensky, I., Nelson, G., & Peirson, L. (2001).  Promoting family wellness and preventing child maltreatment: Fundamentals for thinking and action. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

SCRA has a new website!


After many months of collaborative work, the new SCRA site has launched! The new site has many of the same great resources as the old site, along with some new added features, including a File Library and searchable Member Directory. Find videos and other instructional resources that will help you engage with the site in the Using this Site section. 
The SCRA website is organized around the major areas of Practice (resources and support for people working on community change), Education (information on training programs, career development, and educational materials in community psychology), Research (an exploration of the research topics and methodologies in community psychology), and Policy (work on the effects of public policy on community well-being).
In other areas of the website major publications related to community psychology are described, including two publications from SCRA, The American Journal of Community Psychology and The Community Psychologist. You can also learn about SCRA, including our committees and interest groups, our leadership, the SCRA Biennial conference and other events, SCRA Awards and Fellows, a directory of our members, and the benefits of joining our organization.
This site contains a great deal of information. For a guide to the most popular areas of the site click here. Instructions for finding information on the site are included below.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

the Australian Community Psychologist, June 2014

Below you can find a link to the latest issue of the Australian Community Psychologist:
http://www.groups.psychology.org.au/ccom/publications/

 
The issue is devoted to work, community, and citizenship, and was guest edited by Charlotte Brownlow (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist (University of Umeå, Sweden) and Lindsay O'Dell (The Open University, United Kingdom).

The contents are as follows:

Editorial: Special Edition
Charlotte Brownlow, Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist and Lindsay O’Dell

Articles
Work and ‘the crafting of individual identities’ from a critical standpoint
David Fryer and Rose Stambe

The citizen-worker: Ambivalent meanings of ‘real jobs’, ‘full citizenship’ and adulthood in the case of autistic people
Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, Lindsay O’Dell and Charlotte Brownlow

Children, money and work: Transitions to adulthood
Lindsay O’Dell, Sarah Crafter, Guida de Abreu and Tony Cline

Revolting talks of migrant workers and community organisers: A UK community psychology perspective
Jenny Fisher, Rebecca Lawthom and Carolyn Kagan

Economic integration of women who have experienced homelessness
Rebecca Nemiroff, Tim Aubry and Fran Klodawsky

Promoting community engagement in an intergenerational program: An exploratory study
Jorge Ruiz Crespo and Jan du Preez

Relocation to an area of high amenity: Tree-change euphoria vs. homesickness, alienation and loneliness
Theresa K. Bates

Friday, June 20, 2014

Vía Educación, A.C.: Promoting Citizen Competencies and Community Development

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice
June 2014

Vía Educación, A.C.: Promoting Citizen Competencies and Community Development
By Olya Glantsman & Carlos Luis

                Vía Educación, A.C. is a non-profit organization located in Monterrey, Mexico. It aims to improve people’s quality of life by providing opportunities for social development through educational strategies. One of the founding members of the organization is Armando Estrada, who’s a strong advocate for educational causes. His interest in education began early on when he was growing up in one of the poorest parts of Mexico, witnessing rural poverty and the differences in opportunities between people in the country and people in the city. He thought that if we wanted to improve people’s life conditions, we ought to start through organizing, by collectively identifying needs and resources, and finding alternatives. He considered that organizing required training and skills development, which made him aware of education’s importance in social development.
            With this in mind Armando decided that he wanted to get a Master’s degree, opting to study International Education, as he believed this could help him evaluate the differences between systems (e.g., economic, educational, etc.) and their relationship with the wellbeing of people. While studying he met many people who, like him, were touched by the idea that education can solve social issues.
            Upon completing their education in Harvard, Armando and two of his colleagues came back to Mexico and started Vía Educación. Their first project focused on civic competencies (self-efficacy, empathy, participation, community organizing, democratic deliberation and peaceful coexistence). The project was called “Aprender a Participar Participando” (Learning to participate by participating) and was directed at primary and secondary school teachers, who received training from Vía Educación facilitators in order to develop civic competencies among their students, whose age ranged from 11 to 15 years old. This process was done within the civic assignments which were part of the student’s regular curriculum. For this specific project, Harvard faculty was involved, specifically collaborating on defining how the competencies could be taught and learned.
            The development of the competencies occurred both in the classroom and through the implementation of participatory projects lead by the students and supervised by the teachers. Each project intended to improve a given aspect of the community, and students chose, after doing a needs assessment, which aspect they would like to focus on. The process of the program consists of:
1.      Enabling a platform for social cohesion among community members
2.      Identifying the community that the student will be working with (school, neighborhood, etc.)
3.      Identifying a need within the community, through a needs assessment
4.      Identifying the resources available and social capital
5.      Developing an action plan in order to work with the identified necessity
6.      Executing the action plan
7.      Measuring its effects in the community and evaluating the project
8.      Celebrating and defining next steps
            The program has been implemented since 2005, and for the 2013-2014 period, 184 teachers participated and involved their 6,440students, who generated 184 participatory projects to improve their communities. The following video presents testimonials from teachers involved in the program throughout its implementation: Development of Democratic Citizenship Program
            As the program “Learning to Participate by Participating” continued, the need to work in different community settings arose, and 3 other programs were created; all of which followed the same series of steps from the first program: identifying a need and resources, developing an action plan, executing it and evaluating the results. The creation of the other programs permitted to work more directly with secondary youths in a program called “Círculos Juveniles de Participación” (Youth Participation Circles), with adults at organizational settings in a program called “Círculos Ciudadanos para la Transformación Social” (Citizens Circles towards Social Transformation) and with marginalized communities at a program called “Red Comunitaria” (Community Network).
            The project’s mission and values, such as empowerment and citizen participation, and its focus on social justice and community engagement, closely align with those of the field of community psychology, as each of the projects developed by the students, youth and adults aim to bring a positive transformation to the community.
            Vía Educación is a way for the people to become active members of their communities and to help transform them with their views and concerns, through the implementation of participatory projects. Another plus is that instead of the team having to go to one school or setting once a year, this process promotes people to become facilitators of change in their own communities, which leads not only to empowerment of its members, but to sustainability. Such open communities help connect even the most disconnected communities.
            In 2012 Vía Educación was evaluated by Filantrofilia, a national leader in third sector evaluations, and ranked 6th among 200 non-profit organizations in Mexico. The evaluation was based on the organization’s reach, efficiency, efficacy, and return on investment. Additionally in 2013 Vía Educación was recognized as a human’s rights advocate by Nuevo León’s State Government.
            It is Vía Educación’s ultimate belief that through educational strategies and empowerment, communities have the potential to transform themselves and better their life conditions.
To learn more about Vía Educación, click on the following links:



This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at William_Berkowitz@uml.edu


Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Poverty Burdens the Brain

By Social Work Degree Center

Thanks to Social Work Degree Center for this relevant Infographic on Poverty.

Cick here or on the below infographic to enlarge the image.


"Poverty and the Brain" width="500"  border="0" /></a><br />Source: <a href="http://www.socialworkdegreecenter.com/">SocialWorkDegreeCenter.comt</a>


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Deforestation: Our Disappearing Woodlands


The impact of mankind's consumption and disposal of material goods is evident across the globe. Deforestation devastates entire ecosystems and increases carbon emissions. Fortunately, there are simple ways to reduce your environmental footprint, including changing the way you buy. Look for items that are reclaimed, reused, or refurbished, and you'll do your part to help prevent further damage to the environment.

Click on the below infographic to enlarge the image.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Community Redevelopment in Rural Georgia

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice

May 2014

Michael Lemke, Ph.D.

One of the many unique features of the field of Community Psychology is the potential for the application of core concepts and theories across multiple and diverse communities.  While local contexts may vary greatly from one community to another, tools within the field allow researchers and practitioners to seek out ways to improve the well-being of inhabitants within settings. 

The city of Rome is located in rural northwest Georgia.  Within Rome is the community of South Rome.  This community of just under 5,000 people has higher rates of poverty than the city of Rome and county as a whole and exhibits signs of decline, such as poorly maintained and underdeveloped lots and an infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair.  This also happens to be the hometown of Ashley Anglin, PhD, a May 2014 graduate of the Community and Cultural Psychology doctoral program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who had previously done community development work in a place that is different than Rome, Georgia in a number of ways: Costa Rica.  This prior work involved exploring youth perceptions of tourism, and when developing her dissertation, she planned to explore community development more broadly using the Community Capitals Framework, which describes the interactions between different parts of a community and consists of seven dimensions of capital—cultural, social, financial, built, natural, human, and political (Flora, Emery, Fey, & Bregendahl, 2005). The goal of using this framework is to get community residents and redevelopment stakeholders to think holistically about all their community has to offer and to engage residents in planning for the future. When integrated into mixed-methods research, this framework aids in the development of sustainable strategies to improve community well-being by identifying resources present within communities, which can then be invested to create new resources that meet community members goals for the future (Flora, Emery, Fey, & Bregendahl, 2005).

Community stakeholders in South Rome discovered the work Ashley planned to do in Costa Rica and were intrigued and eager to see if similar work could be done in their own community.  She decided to apply her expertise to improve her hometown, applying all four of the guiding principles of the field of Community Psychology to bring about positive change: Explicit attention and respect for diversity among peoples and settings, understanding people within their contexts, implementing change strategies at multiple levels of analysis, and engaging in active collaboration with community members and other stakeholders.  This work has deliberately sought to engage community members who are diverse across a number of key characteristics.  Those involved in this work have also focused on the local context by making concentrated efforts to discover the complex roots of recent problems within the community. 

Community redevelopment work in South Rome has sought to target multiple ecological levels to promote well-being.  This work targets individuals through the Early Learning Center, Adult Education Center, and Urban Teachers Program; families through parenting classes; and the community as a whole through collaborative planning for infrastructure improvements and creating contexts where community members can convene and engage one another. 

Finally, this work has been an active collaboration.  The project is community-led and has involved numerous local organizations.  The principal organization is the South Rome Redevelopment Corporation (SRRC), which oversees the implementation of the South Rome Redevelopment Master Plan by working with local government, county government, and non-profit and for-profit organizations.  The larger South Rome Redevelopment Coalition consists of numerous local stakeholders, including two local colleges, Rome City Schools, the South Rome Boys and Girls Club, and several local churches.  Numerous other organizations are also part of this collaboration as funders – including the Society for Community Research and Action, through its Mini-Grant Program.  What has made this collaboration unique and thriving is the passion and dedication of its members and their strong interpersonal relationships, as well as tremendous leadership, especially from a dean at a local college.  Ashley plays an important role, bringing her expertise as a community researcher and program evaluator to this active collaboration, but ultimately it is community-led.  One of the positive outcomes thus far is the generation of a pro-change community culture, which is vital to the overall success of this redevelopment project. Other positive outcomes include the large amount of baseline data that this planning process has generated about strengths and aspirations of the community (which will inform ongoing program and project evaluation), the new connections that have been created among individuals and community organizations, and the list of concrete next-steps that were created using community members’ dreams and ideas.

This work has not been without difficulties.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this work has been making sure that all interested parties are invited to participate and then keeping them at the table once they have joined the redevelopment process.  However, these challenges have been overcome by disseminating information about this work in the community at every opportunity, as well as by developing and maintaining strong relationships among the diverse stakeholders involved in the redevelopment of South Rome.  Being conscientious of the needs and constraints of those involved has also helped to keep individuals at the table, and an important part of this is making sure not to demand from these individuals more than they can realistically contribute to the redevelopment effort.  Finally, the application of the Community Capitals Framework has provided a theoretical basis by which those involved in this work can think holistically about who should be invited to join in the redevelopment work.

Community redevelopment in South Rome is ongoing; however, there have been success stories already.  Recently, over 100 community members attended a voluntary community meeting to discuss plans for new housing developments.  Many of those in attendance engaged with coalition members and decided to become involved in the work themselves – further expanding and strengthening this community-led effort by creating a pro-change community culture.

References
Flora, C., Emery, M., Fey, S., & Bregendahl, C. (2005). Community capitals: A tool for
            Evaluating strategic interventions and projects. Available from http://www.nifa.usda.gov/nea/family/pdfs/Community%20Capitals%20Framework.pdf (accessed April 28, 2014).

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at william_berkowitz@uml.edu.