Consider that, as consultant, you must gather the ingredients, the cooking pans, the oven, the electricity, and the dinner guests. You cannot simply show up with napkins and a winning personality. The ability to plan and manage complexity across systems bakes success into the consulting casserole.
Social workers understand the roles of broker, educator, and advocate with relative ease. The social worker as consultant must expand his/her roles specifically to engage across multiple systems at once. This multi-systemic approach is rapidly becoming the standard of generalist social work practice, but it is crucial to the success of the social worker as consultant. Be clear. This multi-systemic approach is not only an awareness of the impact of an intervention or innovation, but management of intended consequences in multiple systems to the advantage of the client. Social workers will do well to add the roles of change agent, convener, aggregator, researcher, and re-purposer to the typical social worker roles.
Change may be thought of as an iterative process involving a change of mind, a change of social perception, and institutional reinforcement. Notice the multiple systems involved: mind, social perception, and institution. Three models of change will serve the social worker as consultant in managing change: Stages of Change Model, Rogers’ Change Influencing Factors, and Wright’s Change Facilitating Factors.
Change of Mind: Stages of Change Model/Trans-theoretical Model
This model is often called “Stages of Change” model or alternatively termed “Trans-theoretical Model.” The model is cyclical recognizing that, for many people, change is more than a one-and-done process. Many may need continued support and encouragement to maintain a change of mind.
The Stages of Change model has 6 stages: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, and Permanent Exit/Relapse. The social worker as a consultant can use this model to structure change initiatives. The model originated as an intervention for addiction practice. Its success with curtailing dependency makes it well-suited to environments where you observe resistance to change.
Change of Social Perception: Rogers’ Change Influencing Factors
The skill of a change agent is not only dependent on working with individuals. The social worker as a consultant must also manage the perceptions of individuals within groups—the social perception. The social worker as a consultant will do well to consider the Change Influencing Factors of Everett Rogers.
Individuals make comparisons within social groups that can be mapped across an institution. Rogers articulated a process of diffusion of innovations, but also shed light on how individuals determined value. The Change Influencing Factors are 5 perceptions of the value of innovation. The factors include relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. The social worker as a consultant can promote innovations within the group by demonstrating and publicizing each of these factors.
Change of Institution: Wright’s Change Facilitating Factors
It was Schein who proposed a simple 3 point approach to organizational change: unfreezing, cognitive restructuring, and refreezing. A change agent must be able to lead a change of culture across the institution. Wright’s Change Facilitating Factors extends DiBella and Nevis’ (1997) learning organization factors and connects them to Schein’s organizational change approach. What results is a roadmap for anchoring sustainable change in the institution?
Consultants are sometimes tasked with bringing together organizations or groups of individuals representing different constituencies, goals, and segments of the community. In these task groups, the consultant must perform a number of tasks that may be familiar to the social worker as a consultant. As conveners, consultants must focus the group on a common goal, a structure to organize and manage the core talents of participants, an effective communication process, an accountability system, and a dissemination mechanism.
These tasks are to be performed with an awareness of the external environment, including geographic considerations; multiple systems interactions; individual and corporate personalities; and current relationship status. The goal is to inspire trust and confidence among the collaborators.
As a social worker, you have learned group work. As a consultant and convener, expand this knowledge to manage multiple, sometimes conflicting, goals. Rely first on the goal of the collaborative to guide organizational behavior. Manage individuals through agendas shared in advance of meetings, and clear, written role definition within meetings. Outside of the meetings, provide transparent and frequent communication.
Consultants must become masterful at bringing to clients tested solutions from other disciplines and organizational environments. Consultants distill usable knowledge from multiple information sources and points of view to develop specific solutions for the client. The skill of an aggregator requires large information nets feeding the social worker as a consultant. Economic, social, political, and technological environments are your purview as a consultant. It makes sense that your information nets include sources that discuss each of these.
Consultants are often called upon to look beyond the definitions to reveal what the data, the culture, and the perceptions connote. The basic skills of community assessment were presented briefly in the social work curriculum. But, the social worker as a consultant must be a consumer, an interpreter, and a producer of research applying the lessons of assessment to specific organizational challenges.
Becoming an effective consumer of research begins with learning how to read research reports. Every social research study is reported with common sections: Abstract, Introduction, Review of Literature, Methodology, Findings, Discussion, and Conclusion. I suggest reading research reports in the following order: Abstract, Conclusion, and Methodology. These are the pieces needed for aggregation with other research. If you are interested in replicating the study or applying the findings, you will want to read the Introduction, the Discussion, then the Findings, and finally the Review of the Literature.
The importance of research interpretation is to articulate the multiple options that research provides in answering any given question. Interpreting research begins with a parsing of the methodology. The methodology details the research design and statistical procedures used in the study. The social worker as a consultant must be aware of the best practices to ensure that research designs fit the research questions and statistical procedures reliably express relationships among the variables.
As a producer of research, the social worker as a consultant must at least be versed in needs assessment procedures and evaluation methods. For many, the implementation of research is less taxing than the writing. The consultant must be equally proficient in both. The conceptualization of research must create a testable equation (i.e. A+B=C). The point is not to prove the equation.
The point is to explore relationships. Implementation of research centers on strict adherence to a written research protocol. The protocol ensures transparency and future replication. Writing is about discipline. Different style manuals will be applicable depending on your audience, but they generally prescript at least a presentation of a literature review, methodology, findings, discussion, and conclusions.
Consultants are experts at translating knowledge and materials meant for one purpose for use in a new, productive purpose. The social worker as a consultant will often work with social and public services. These sectors are already inter-disciplinary. This means that the social worker must re-purpose social work traditional methods as well as adapt and re-purpose methods that originated outside the social work field.
Re-purposing social work traditional methods will often involve educating non-social workers to the efficacy of social work practice techniques. A good example of this can be found in health care. It may surprise many non-social work medical professionals that social workers are interested in changing the health choice behavior of patients.
Social work consultants in medical settings re-purpose human behavior knowledge and combine it with an understanding of medical best practices and prevention to influence health choice behavior both at individual and institutional levels. Re-purposing methods that are external to social work often involves demonstrating competence in knowledge originating in another discipline.
This is most easily conveyed through a simulation. A consultant may take fundraising data from a prior year for a presentation to the board of directors. Utilizing knowledge of fundraising best practices and social network analysis, the social worker as a consultant can model the difference between the prior year’s fundraising progress and the progression expected after implementation of a newly proposed model.