Social work professional education includes in its core curriculum some important constructs that are also vital to the social worker as consultant. In addition to reinforcing the mantra of individual change and social change, the constructs provide us with a vocabulary for discussing human behavior in the social environment. Perhaps the most foundational of these is General Systems Theory. This theory organizes humans into individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities or IFGOC for short. Next, is Ecological Systems Perspective.
This perspective places IFGOC in an environment that we can describe. These lead logically to Sociocybernetics. This construct emphasizes behavior as the determinant of outcomes. The social worker as consultant will do well to use mastery of these toward the development of competence in Operational Research–a discipline useful in predicting outcomes.
Even if you are a social worker, systems talk can get abstract. But, that is the point, to map the complexity. Here it is as simply as drawing. General Systems Theory started by drawing circles on a sheet of paper. Ecological systems perspective drew lines connecting the circles. Sociocybernetics suggested that the connection lines were made intentionally, not by mistake. Operational research has the idea that we can predict what and how connection lines will be made.
General Systems Theory was advanced by Bertalanffy. The theory allows us to talk about the interactions between IFGOC. For the social worker as consultant, focus on the concept of holism. Each system is not simply defined by the sum of its parts. The interactions between the component parts form something different from the simple sum of parts. The social workers as consultant must master manipulation of this holism effect to define the expected outcome and manage the components to achieve that outcome.
Ecological systems perspective is credited to Bronfenbrenner. The theory allows us to talk about the relationships in and among systems. This includes the idea of individual complexity. This perspective introduces the fact that systems can be nested and interdependent. We can speak of the systems we focus on as the micro systems. They are nested within larger mezzo systems.
These are nested within still larger macro systems. Bronfenbrenner also introduced exo systems to describe those systems that are not nested with our system of focus. Systems can also be energy enhancing and energy-draining. The social worker as consultant is a functional intervention with awareness of multiple systems levels. The social worker as consultant does not see these ecological systems levels as dividing practice areas. He/she sees them as a reminder to review the potential and unintended consequences of a proposed intervention at multiple systems levels.
Sociocybernetics allows us to talk about the social contracts that provide priority to the interactions and complexity to the relationships in which humans participate. The social worker as consultant utilizes sociocybernetics to map the complexity that results when individuals relate in families, participate in groups, form organizations, and build communities. This mapping can take the form of a diagram of nested and individual circles connected by lines that denote strength of relationship, direction, and energy. Social workers typically refer to these diagrams as ecomaps.
Operational Research: The Next Step
General systems theory, ecological systems perspective, and sociocybernetics form the basic skills that the social worker as consultant will have mastered already after having completed a social work education. The social worker as consultant can combine these constructs to aid in comprehending operational research. Operational research employs systems knowledge to predict the behavior of individuals in specific environments. He/she makes predictions by specifically noting the inputs, interventions of the system, its outputs, and the feedback produced from systems operation.