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    Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Analytic Hierarchy

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    Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) is mathematical thinking about decision analysis based on linear algebra. It is useful when the elements included in the decision are subjective, such as is all human decisions. AHP holds that individual perception, relevant facts, and interrelationships among inputs and agents must be considered in order to predict outcomes. AHP allows for the non-logical, seemingly unpredictable nature of human interaction. The process includes three steps similar to operational modeling in form and function. Step one identifies the decision objectives, criteria, constraints, and alternatives into a hierarchy. Step two evaluates comparisons of options two-by-two at each level of the hierarchy. Step three synthesizes the results of the comparisons utilizing a solution algorithm. Saaty (1988) suggests that “the algorithm result gives the relative importance of alternative courses of action” (Saaty, 1988, p110).

    Let us use AHP in a decision about ice cream. Step one: We determine that Polly, our client wants to eat some ice cream. Her favorite flavor is chocolate. She is driving. So, she needs two have a delivery method that only requires one hand. She does not want to wait to eat the ice cream. Step two: We outline the options, and determine predictions.
    AHP In Step three, we begin to recognize a pattern of conditionals on which Polly’s choices are based. We construct an algorithm—a set of steps based on her preferences, the options available, and the situation in which she finds herself. We use this algorithm to determine the potential for alternatives. For example, if her options of a place to stop only included burger diners. Our algorithm suggests that Polly would choose the diner that has a drive-thru and sells chocolate ice cream in a cone.

    Of course, other client choices involve seemingly more complex decisions. But, recognize that complexity rests with the client preferences, options perceived, and the situation. The analytic hierarchy process helps to manage this complexity.

    I have advanced a new model, Perception of Self in Environment-Reality (POSE-R) to encapsulate the theoretical constructs of ecological systems and the presuppositions of AHP. This chapter discusses your ability to influence human systems outcomes through analysis of complexity. Each level in our system (individual, institution, and environment) has questions that assist your analysis. Even before you get to the mathematics and the specific solution algorithm, you are able to outline the ecological construct of human decision making—choice!

    It should be noted here that the full AHP that attends the POSE-R model includes WILL as a prerequisite to CHOICE. The full AHP includes will, choice, consciousness, self-efficacy, institution, and movement. I will not discuss the full AHP because that discussion moves beyond the constructs of ecological systems theory and practice (EST&P) toward an integral theoretical construct, AQAL Cube, which allows us to discuss quantum consciousness and non-local, non-linear realities (Neale, 2013). Basically, utilizing the AQAL Cube and integral theory, we are not bound by the 4 dimensions that can be represented in a flat graphic. Integral theory allows us to conceptualize multiple chessboards, interrelated, operating all at the same time.

    After reading this section, you will be able to:

    1. Construct an assessment that extends from the precipitating event to provide predictive information in preparation for intervention.
    2. Conduct an ecological assessment including environmental, institutional, and individual elements in a description of Perception of Self in Environment – Reality (POSER).
    3. Articulate the questions and inferential value of context, control, and choice.

    Precipitating Events and Presenting Problems
    As we have discussed in our review of ecological systems theory and practice, our basic hierarchy includes the individual, the institution, and the environment in an interrelated fashion. We have explored mapping and lexicon meant to conceptualize an understanding of the basic complexity of human systems. Our goal all along was to utilize the model of ecological systems theory and practice to predict outcomes. If we are able to PREDICT outcomes based on systems and inputs, we can conceivably intervene in those systems and INFLUENCE outcomes.

    This is the justification for efficacy in social work assessment. Prior events shape the client’s perception of the current event. I propose that your assessment of the current event, the presenting problem, is not just as assessment of the problem, but an attempt to map both the influence of prior events AND the impact of current events. This assessment of BOTH can be termed the client’s Perception of Self in Environment – Reality (POSE-R).

    Based in the construct of ecological systems theory and practice as we have discussed it, your task is to answer three general questions. These questions indicate other questions that expand our assessment into POSE-R context, control and choice, which directly connect to environmental practice sociocybernetics, institutional control systems, and individual agents.

    General Questions in Ecological Assessment
    • What are the social contracts supported by the economic, political, technological, and social environment?
    • What are the interactive effects of the intersection of person, environment, and institutional exposure?
    • What is the assessed profile and goal of the individual?

    A Matter of Context: Environment Questions
    Environmental practice Sociocybernetics provide a context for the review of the presenting problem. This analysis sets the stage for your engagement in social change. With this framework, you can suggest interaction schedules or lifestyle changes, financial services and literacy, innovations and technological tools, and social policies that alleviate the problem, support coping, and promote sustainable adaptation.

    • What were the exposure, experiences, circumstances, and expectations prior to the choice?
    • What were the financial circumstances and expectations central to the choice?
    • What technologies enhanced or hindered capabilities?
    • What policies are pertinent to the execution of the choice?

    A Matter of Control: Institution Questions
    Institutional control systems are a practical way of defining and reviewing institutions. Institutions are not buildings. They are constructs that suggest normative behavior. With this definition, consider that the major institutions in civil life are Marriage, Family, Education, Business, Faith & Volunteerism, and Health Care.

    With this framework, you are able to model the structural influences on individual choice and group dynamic. This is especially useful when you need to cognitively restructure understanding or re-educate clients. Instead of conceptualizing the need for education as central to the intervention, this framework suggests that you recognize the influence of institutions (the control systems) as central to the intervention.
    • What are the individual needs and expected behaviors as the client enters the control system?
    • What routines and values are communicated through the control system?
    • What are the controls implemented during execution of the control system?
    • What is the expected outcome of the control system?
    • How is feedback used after exit from the control system?

    A Matter of Choice: Individual Questions
    The individual agent conception offers a view of the client as both unique and active. Your task is to compose a profile of the individual agent that accounts for the complexities inherent in behavior, cognition, and meaning. Behavior is the result of choices. Cognition is the knowledge brought to bear in the decision making process. Meaning included the interactive effects of environment, institution, and individual uniqueness to produce the individual REALITY.

    You are practiced in offering services and increasing options. Consider that some clients were NEVER in a position REALISTICALLY to perceive the services and options as viable for their situation. Efficacious practice means that you include this awareness in your treatment planning. Competence demands that you have a theoretical framework that offers some certainty in assessing and intervening in these situations.

    With this individual agent framework, you are able to model the choice architecture of the individual agent. You can predict what options the client will see as possible. You can intervene intentionally to expand meaning and expand what is REALISTIC to the client. The foundational constructs for individual agent profile are Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Spirituality, and Meaning producing the following questions:

    • Is the choice age appropriate and not the result of disease?
    • Is the choice informed from multiple and competing sources?
    • Is the choice free from undue influence except that it maintains the culture of the in-group?
    • Is the choice based on factors that are not readily observed or are unique only to the client?
    • What is the impact of OUR interaction on cognition, meaning, and potential behaviors?

    Conclusion: The Root of the Problem
    And here it is. My grand contribution to the knowledge base concerning ecological systems theory and practice: THE ROOT OF ALL HUMAN STRUGGLE IS CHOICE. This individual choice is confounded in institutional system structures. We seemingly lose the ability to identify the origin, to re-educate, and to introduce new options because, in institutions, the individual identity gives way to the collective identity. Once the norms and values become widespread influencing the creation of new infrastructure, problematic, unsustainable behaviors become the context from which all behaviors are judged. This is how unsustainable choices become reasonable to many. It is how culture becomes reprobate.

    The solution begins at the root. Yet, the solution must address each level in the hierarchy: context, control and choice. Though the individual identity seems lost in the institution, it still maintains the predictive nature of its identity. It still responds predictably to transactions, environment, and culture based on individual choice. Social workers are uniquely trained to assess and intervene at each of these levels. The choice rests with you. The control system of social work education must integrate this knowledge. Social workers must be agents of sustainability and culture change.

    Reading this series was a good start. My hope is that you see the both the immediate use of EST&P as well as the limitations of the model. Linear, system-bounded representations of human behavior are useful because they provide a construct for our beginning questions. They can even provide a foundation for simple predictions. Yet, in order to explore more complex predictions, we must employ a more robust, multidimensional model as our foundation. The mathematics of the model are useful in calculating probability, but you will be much more interested in the behaviors they present as most probable. Trained practitioners make these calculations intuitively. I offer this advancement for those who want to understand and more intentionally implement their intuition.

    Bibliographic Notes
    Neal, L. (June 2013). The AQAL cube for dummies. Intergral Leadership Review. [Retrieved from http://integralleadershipreview.com/9013-the-aqal-cube-for-dummies/ August 14, 2013].

    Saaty, T.L. (1988). What is the analytic hierarchy process? Mathematical Models for Decision Support, 48. Springer. 109-121.

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    Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

    Education

    Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

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    Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.

    How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning

    “Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:

    • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
    • What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
    • How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
    • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?

    After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.

    Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.

    Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.

    Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

    Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.

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    Education

    New Preschool Program in Oregon is a Model for the Nation—But Challenges Remain

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    By Mary King and Lisa Dodson

    In November 2020, voters in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, resoundingly approved the creation of a new, universal preschool program—a program that could serve as a model for desperately needed preschool and childcare investments for the entire country. All three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah county will be able to attend a free, year-round, universal, high quality preschool program that meets their needs as well as those of most families, providers and staff, and local businesses. Key elements include a wide range of choices for families as well as living wages and professional supports for providers and workers. The program is slated to be equitably funded by a local income tax on the highest income households.

    Two big challenges remain: ensuring that families with “non-traditional” work schedules are included, and significantly increasing public investment in facilities to allow preschools to expand well beyond church basements and providers’ homes. Those working non-traditional hours are disproportionately low-income, women, people of color, and often “essential workers” without whom our society and economy would not function. Federal childcare initiatives must address the needs of families with such work schedules, or the families that most need public child care will be left out.

    A Universal Model that Serves Diverse Needs

    Universal preschool programs benefit all children and lead to better outcomes than means-tested programs for the most disadvantaged children. Means-tested programs such as Head Start seek to deliver services only to households with low incomes. Although means-tested programs “target the poor,” universal programs bring children and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum together, challenging ongoing race, ethnic and class segregation that erodes democracy. Universality also inspires broad support to maintain adequate funding. After fifty well-regarded years, Head Start is still available—but only for a fraction of eligible families, and even then, often only part-time and part-year. High quality preschool and child care is out of reach for the large majority of families who already face the high cost of housing, health care, and student debt with stagnating wages. Importantly, universal preschool is both a two-generation anti-poverty program and a powerful boost to economic development, because it returns $9.45 to the community for every dollar spent.

    Families raising young children are diverse and need a wide range of options. Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will offer choices of:

    • language and cultural contexts, including Afro-centric and other alternatives,
    • types of setting, including family childcare providers, public schools and free-standing centers, and
    • schedules, including school year and year-round, full and part-time, weekend days as well as week days, with up to 50 hours a week for families that need or want longer days

    Children with disabilities will be included, facilitating earlier identification of health issues and treatment. Expulsions, now too common in preschool settings particularly for children of color, will be prohibited, requiring that the system provide supportive interventions to meet all children’s needs.

    Fair Pay and Professional Support for Providers and Workers

    Currently, U.S. family childcare providers, preschool teachers, and childcare workers earn poverty wages with few benefits and often cope with difficult working conditions. The result is high turnover; the loss of skilled, experienced and dedicated workers to jobs that better support their families; and damage to the quality of care. High quality child care depends on the ongoing relationships caregivers develop with families, children, and co-workers.

    Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will pay teachers comparably with kindergarten teachers, doubling their current salaries. The wage floor for assistant teachers and other classroom staff will be set at nearly $20 an hour when the program starts in Fall 2022, with pay levels adjusted to reward increasing skills, training and experience. Continuing professional development will be geared to the schedules of the low-income working parents who are over-represented among preschool workers. Should workers wish to join a union, employers will be required to remain neutral.

    Funding universal high quality child care is within reach. Over the past 40 years, U.S. economic gains have been concentrated on an ever smaller group of the wealthy, while responsibility for paying for our infrastructure and public services has been shifted from the affluent to the working and middle classes. Reversing such trends, Multnomah County’s preschool program is to be funded by a county income tax on approximately eight percent of households at the top. Combined federal, state, and local income tax rates for such households will still fall far below the top tax federal income tax rates in place for the much of the 20th century, from the 1930s through the 1970s.

    Unmet Challenges

    Multnomah County intends to offer preschool up to ten hours a day and on weekend days, but has not committed to other “non-traditional” hours. Employers demand “non-traditional” work schedules for the three occupations expected to add the most jobs between 2019 and 2029: home health and personal care aides, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks. Many retail and hospitality positions also entail low wages and employer insistence that workers maintain “open availability,” and healthcare, construction, and gig workers struggle with work schedules that make it very difficult to find child care.

    Multnomah County will pay fair wages to everyone working in the classroom, but will not supplement the pay of people working in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs that pay too little to retain skilled people in the face of a more attractive alternative. The county plans to support some infant and toddler programs, but won’t be able to overcome the severe shortage of affordable, quality care for these age groups, likely to be exacerbated by competition from a preschool system offering better compensation. Finally, preschool and child care is now crowded into inexpensive or public spaces; serving all children well will require a significant investment in physical facilities.

    Despite such continuing challenges, Multnomah County’s Preschool for All offers a national model, with its variety of choices to families, living wages for all classroom staff, and an equitable approach to public funding. Each of these aspects needs to be included in any new federal program. In addition, a new federal program should aspire to offer high quality child care to families struggling with difficult work schedules, until labor legislation is revised to place limits on such unpredictable schedules. Strategies will also need to be implemented to improve the wages of workers in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs.

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    Diversity

    Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education

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    Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.

    Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.

    An Opportune Moment for Political Science

    Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.

    Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.

    Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.

    Building a Diversity Infrastructure

    Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.

    Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.

    Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.

    Mentorship is Not Enough

    The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.

    Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.

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