Creating a Value Proposition for Community Psychology

By Maurice Elias – May 24, 2009
OfflineMaurice Elias

Many of you may know what value propositions are, but the term was new to me until recently. A value proposition is a statement that can be given to people who do not know much or anything about community psychologists to indicate why it might be in their interest, and in the interest of their organization, to hire a community psychologist, give a community psychologist an internship, appoint a community psychologist to their board, bring a community psychologist into their (non-community psychology) acade

Employability and Community Psychology:  Why We Need a Value Proposition

Maurice (Mo) J. Elias, Ph.D.

SCRA President
Rutgers University

    Do you know what a Value Proposition is?  I had no clue until long-time SCRA member Bill Neigher introduced the term to me a year or so ago.  Technically, it is described as:

“A business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement should convince a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings.”
According to Investopedia,

“Companies use this statement to target customers who will benefit most from using the company's products, and this helps maintain an economic moat. The ideal value proposition is concise and appeals to the customer's strongest decision-making drivers. Companies pay a high price when customers lose sight of the company's value proposition.”, retrieved March 18, 2009

    As Value Propositions are applied more and more to professional roles, the concept has arrived at the doorstep of the field of Community Psychology.  For a long time, we have lamented about the uncertainty of career trajectories; in 1987, Lonnie Snowden lamented how community psychologists were leaving the field because they did not find vocational roles consonant with maintaining a strong identity as a community psychologist.  We still are not confident in outlining career paths for our students; while an academic path can sometimes seem clearest, the reality is that there are not all that many positions for professors of Community Psychology.  The majority of career paths are outside of academia.

    As a result, we “lose” too many people in our field after graduate school.  Many want to continue as community psychologists but the forces identified by Lonnie Snowden draw them away from the field.  Hence, when Bill began to speak about the Value Proposition of community psychology, it captured my attention and that of the Community Psychology Practice Group, which struggles to define vocational pathways for community psychologists in the world of practice.

    While we have sometimes lamented the term, “community psychology,” the truth is that terms like Volvo and Xerox and Charmin have not become known because of their inherent meaning.  They have become brands that stand for something.  The Value Proposition challenges our field to define what it is that community psychologists stand for and, more specifically, what is it that they can do in settings in which they are hired.  You bring home a Volvo and you can expect certain things.  You get a Xerox machine and you have a pretty good idea what it is supposed to be able to do.  Certainly, we want the best out of our Charmin. 

    Most employers, whether in governmental, non-profit, or for profit settings, inside or outside of academia, don’t really know what they are getting when they “bring home” a community psychologist.  They don’t realize what is special about someone branded with that term and the added value that such individuals can bring to a setting beyond the formal job requirements.  Academic departments often don’t realize the benefits to departmental functioning that can result from hiring a community psychologist, and Chief Operating Officers don’t realize the benefits to organizational functioning that can result from such a hire, either.

    Of course, there is a relationship to what the market needs and the likely success of the Value Proposition that one puts forward.  Well, I believe we are in an era that is ready for the Value Proposition of community psychology.  That is why I asked the Practice Group to allow me to share their collective deliberations about the Value Proposition with our full SCRA membership via my column, and I invite you to comment on it at my Presidential Blog, where I will be posting the column.

( )

    In Box A, you will see a draft statement of the Value Proposition.  However, it is important to note that the ethical stance of community psychology leads us to raise questions about our Value Proposition.  Members of the Practice Group have raised a number of concerns, and these are included in Box B.  I invite you to post comments on these specific concerns at the Blog site, as well as to add any concerns of your own. 

    As you read, keep in mind some guiding thoughts from Bill Neigher about community psychology as a brand, in terms of the three questions below.  You might want to compare and contrast your answers for our field to those for related fields (e.g., clinical psychologist; organizational developer; community organizer; human resource manager; social worker; sociologist):

1.    What is our “brand image?” [what our internal and external customers think of when they hear “community psychology.” consider: Volvo, Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Fox News, Nordstrom]
2.    What is our “brand promise?” [how we honor the brand image by what we “deliver” in practice]
3.    What are our customer’s expectations of how we deliver on the “brand promise”?

    I believe we can and must have a Value Proposition to put forward.  The Practice Group is actively planning to share a draft of the statement to different potential employers (e.g., Human Resources directors, academic Department Chairpersons, heads of non-profit organizations) to begin to get feedback, and this is likely to take place in between the time this column is submitted and the time it gets into your mailbox.  Yet I feel we will learn at least as much from the comments of our own membership.

Post Your Comments, Join the Conversation at the Biennial

    Please read the Value Proposition and post your comments.  Please respond to the concerns.  Consider showing the statement to individuals in gatekeeper roles and share their reactions and concerns.  Come to the Biennial in New Jersey in June 2009 and join the conversations on Thursday and Friday evenings of the biennial about how community psychology and community psychologists can become more centrally engaged in understanding and solving the problems facing our society and the global village  (cf. and sign up at   Give your input into the kinds of preparation community psychologists need to enter the worlds of practice, policy, research, and teaching.  I would like to have a final version of the Value Proposition ready for a vote of the membership at our Annual Meeting at APA in August 2009 and I would like the document to reflect as much input as possible.

Box A
Draft of The Community Psychology “Value Proposition” 

What we are, what we do:   

Community psychologists are “practitioner-scientists” in both community and academic settings.  We have pragmatic, tested communication and consulting skills.  We focus primarily on collaborations to strengthen systems, services, and outcomes available to individuals, industries, and organizations in the community-- often in times of rapid change or distress.  Our work is characterized by an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving and innovation, critical  in an era of increasing globalization and diversity.   

Community psychologists collaborate with professionals of other disciplines, industries, organizations, government, and advocacy groups to improve strategic outcomes. 

Community Psychologists also focus on problem prevention and/or wellness promotion, employing ecological and systems levels of analysis and action.  We have a “proactive” versus “reactive” orientation, and a commitment to the identification of unmet and underserved individual and subgroups needs within  organizational or community contexts.

How we add value:

Our skill sets can include public advocacy and policy analysis, change management and program planning, organizational development, program evaluation, capital formation, grants development and management, computer literacy, ability to write in both technical and lay language, presentation/teaching skills, cultural competence, knowledge of human development, prevention and promotion methodologies, community needs assessment and market share analysis, and applied research, including action-research. [THE NEXT SENTENCE, IN ITALICS, IS A CONTROVERSIAL INSERT.  IT IS A SENTENCE DESIGNED TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN THE ASPIRATIONAL STATEMENT THAT PRECEDED IT AND THE REALITY THAT NO COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGIST WILL HAVE ALL OF THESE SKILLS→]  Of course, you are as likely to find a community psychologist skilled in all of these areas as you would be to find a medical or legal practitioner skilled in all subareas of their profession.   Regardless of subarea, members of this profession have the emotional intelligence skills to manage and supervise, the organizational skills to balance margin and mission, and the savvy to foster collaboration and build consensus among the diverse constituencies who are your customers, suppliers, and strategic partners. 

How we are distinctive:

Community psychologists have the implementation skills to put theory, research, policy, and strategy into action in challenging and divergent settings.  Whether in academic or applied settings, formal or informal structures, or government, for profit, or nonprofit organizations, community psychologists believe that the most enduring solutions to problems come from integrating diverse voices and perspectives with an eye toward feasibility and sustainability.  Community psychologists can be cost-effective additions to the workforce across a wide employment spectrum.

Box B
Caveats About the Value Proposition (VP)

Is this an aspirational statement or the reality? Is it evidence-based?  How can we find out?

Which of the skills in the VP are learned in graduate programs or on the job or both?  How well aligned should our graduate programs be with our VP?  How do our training programs re-evaluate those job skills and retool the curricula?

At what point in the trajectory of people’s careers do some of these skills develop fully? What are the implications of this for how we put ourselves forward?

How much variation is there among community psychologists in their ability to perform those skills? How much does this variation matter in putting forward a VP for an overall professional field?

How do we “certify” to employers that we have those skills? [i.e., “licensed” as in clinical, or “certified” as in Novel Network Specialist, or some other form of recognition from SCRA/ the Council of Educational Programs?]

What are different market places looking for?

Does the VP apply to academic settings as it is currently phrased?  How can it be changed to better apply, or is a separate statement needed?

How well does it represent the SCRA Vision:
“The Society for Community Research and Action will have a strong, global impact on enhancing well-being and promoting social justice for all people by fostering collaboration where there is division and empowerment where there is oppression.”

What are the international implications of the above considerations, separately and taken together?

How well does the VP connect to the proposed Model Community Psychology Resume, put forward by Al Ratcliffe in The Community Psychologist (Vol. 41, No. 3/4, p. 59)?


About the author


OfflineBrad Olson Brad Olson said 4 years ago

Dear Mo, Practice Group, and SCRA:

This is also my first introduction to the term ValueProposition, and yet immediately, I also think it's an exciting andnecessary step. After an initial review of the draft, it seems likean excellent start. It would be worthwhile to set these existingideas down next to our mission statement and see what else might beadded to it or refined. As you well know, there have also been anumber of participatory sessions that members of the practice grouphave conducted both at both the Urbana-Champaign and PasadenaBiennials. It would be worthwhile to return to the results of thosesessions to see what else might be added to this new document. Inmy opinion, the "controversial insert" shows some honesty, and I tome it doesn't sound so controversial, and I would recommend keepingit.

Once again, I think this is a wonderful exercise and once it iscompleted, a challenge will be to truly put it to use anddisseminate it in the most effective way possible. What are someways for the membership, the Practice Group, the ExecutiveCommittee and others to start using it to bring about socialchange? This is the time to start planning for that later stage,and no doubt you already have been batting around ideas. I wouldlove to hear more about them and I am sure others would aswell!


Brad Olson


OfflineMaurice Elias Maurice Elias said 4 years ago

Brad, the next step is a survey that is forthcoming, inspired bythe Practice Group's outstanding work, that will further elucidatethe competencies of community psychologists and respondent's viewsof how they obtained these competencies.  This information will notonly help us map out the terrain of practice (which, to me,includes the practice of community psychology in academic settings)but also inform our training programs at the graduate level andsharpen our focus when we expose undergraduates to the field andfuture potential of community psychology, from a career point ofview.  So, please stay tuned.  The survey will be posted on thelistserv, I will provide a link at this blog, and we will ask allthose in SCRA leadership positions to share this with theirmembers/groups/colleagues.

With appreciation,


Would you like to comment?

You must be a member. Sign In if you are already a member.

  • 1 version
Avg. Rating:
Post Date:
May 24, 2009
Posted By:
Maurice Elias

Related Content

    Search this area

    About this channel

    • 6 articles

    Viewed 2,988 times