SCRA's Next Stage of Growth & Influence: Priorities & an Action-Oriented Policy Framework

By Maurice Elias – July 2, 2009
OfflineMaurice Elias

I am writing this after a most successful 12th Biennial Conference at Montclair State University, moving toward the close of my tenure as SCRA President. As I said at the Biennial, SCRA is at a crossroads. We have become a resourced organization and we are facing the challenge of how, as an organization, we will walk the talk of our mission statement and live up to the aspirations of our Value Proposition. I am devoting this column to articulating some background and, more importantly, some plans that ha

Becoming a Resourced Organization

    The source of our increased resources is AJCP.   As we have  become aware of the value of AJCP as a scholarly and a financial resource,  the Executive Committee (EC), under Anne Bogat’s leadership, pursued acquiring ownership of the journal for SCRA and a more favorable contract.  While the new contract was executed just prior to the biennial and we are gearing up to receive revenues, as a result of the AJCP contract renegotiation, SCRA will increase its annual revenues by approximately $200,000 per year, by my estimates.  As the EC began to consider how to address this change budgetarily, we quickly asked the question, “Money for what?’.  Being ecologically oriented, this led to widening circles of increasing complexity, interconnection, and comprehensiveness in our deliberations.  We recognized that SCRA had an opportunity to redefine itself as an organization, and to consider becoming mission driven in an intentional way.  Doing so would afford an opportunity for our Committees, Interest Groups, Task Forces to collaborate for a shared goal.  We revisited our internal structure and how we create avenues for our most important resources—our membership—to become more deeply involved in the shared work of the organization.  Among the most essential realizations is that we needed to re-engage our Past Presidents in a serious manner, because they are a vital source of institutional memory, guidance, and continuity. 

The Past Presidents Speak (and Email)

    Input from the Past Presidents was solicited via email and at the Past Presidents’ Breakfast Meeting at the Biennial.  I was not able to contact all of the Past Presidents, as email addresses sometimes did not work.  Most responded, though not all.  Many attended the Breakfast meeting.  My view is that we all should be very proud of this group of folks, because they have stepped up in response to the request for input.  Specifically, they were asked whether and how they might be involved with SCRA in ongoing ways if SCRA were to set strategic priorities, and what suggestions they had about strategic directions for SCRA.

    The overarching message conveyed by the Past Presidents was Jim Kelly-esque:  It ain’t what you do, it’s the way you do it.   Among their key observations are these.  First, our field has high relevance and high invisibility.  Our core values, including collaboration, focusing on strengths, taking an ecological/development/systems perspective, diversity, fostering participation especially among those whose voices are not usually heard, and sense of community/civic engagement, are at the forefront of many conversations, and much valued work, by us and by others who know nothing of SCRA, reflects these core values.  Yet the field of community psychology, and SCRA, is not highly visible.

    The conversation about visibility took several directions.  One was to look at how SCRA can increase the application of community psychology in the public interest, through policy and practice outlets.  Another was to integrate community psychology into undergraduate texts by having SCRA write, or sponsor, an introductory psychology and/or an abnormal psychology textbook.  And a final thought was to consider ways of fostering more collaboration among SCRA members, capitalizing on such excellent sharing enterprises as the Biennial and the Global e-Journal, by creating concrete behavior settings with a clear purpose and individuals with meaningful responsibilities, directed toward some clear priorities.

    Among the kinds of settings/purposes the Past Presidents suggested they might become involved with are”

• advising/participating in an SCRA book series
• administering small SCRA grants for research and practice projects involving collaboration among members and/or interdisciplinary/intersector collaboration
• providing mentoring to leaders of interest groups, task forces, committees
• working with the Finance Committee around fundraising, planned giving for SCRA
• advising SCRA textbook projects

    Finally, the Past Presidents emphasized that if we did not create more of a sense of community within SCRA, we would be unlikely to reach greater aspirations.  Two comments stand out, among many, and are excerpted below:

              For example, every report from subgroups and their discussions, can be directed to the selected agenda. This way SCRA may uncover social power and shared meaning that benefits all in our identification with SCRA. Such efforts may reduce  any palpable sense of fragmentation and boost a shared élan for common values and enterprises.

              Such efforts may help continue to share a common heritage across our sub groups and potentially encourage more conversations across these groupings to continue to establish a common purpose while recognizing different foci of interest.

Strategic Planning Meeting of the EC at the Biennial

    The EC has spent the past year preparing for the contingency of becoming a resourced organization.  We have done a great deal of organizational review and set a number of changes into motion.  However, we had not devoted specific face-to-face time to addressing the larger issues of SCRA priorities.  The input of the Past Presidents served as the backdrop to the EC’s conversation at the biennial, where we focused on three Guiding Questions:

1) What do we want SCRA to accomplish in the world?

2) What do we need to do organizationally for SCRA and the CP field?

3) What mechanisms must be put in place to accomplish the priorities established in #1 and 2?

CAVEAT:  We were mindful of the difficulty of getting broad and representative input from the membership in answering questions #1, 2, and 3.   So we determined to remember that we are elected leaders and therefore have been entrusted by (a voting minority) of SCRA members to act in that way, attempting to be as informed as possible by our membership. And we are pursuing this as an action-research project.  The times require action and we are taking such in the best way we know how, while constantly asking for feedback and suggestions and providing what we intend to be widely expanding opportunities for direct contribution.  Hence, we are sharing the current state of our thinking and action via TCP and at the web site, where anyone is able to comment.

SCRA’s Strategic Priority for Impact in the World:  Policy

    The EC unanimously passed a motion that endorsed a three-year prioritization of policy-related goals within our current mission/vision/goals statement.  The motion was also endorsed by incoming President Elect Pat O’Connor, and so it reflects a shared commitment among what will be the Past President (me), the President (Mark Aber) and the President Elect (Pat), as of August 2009, for a sustained organizational priority. 

    The specific formulation stated that it would be a priority of SCRA over the next three years to influence the formation and institutionalization of public policy consistent with community psychological principles and with the social justice values that are at the core of our discipline.   Further, our work on policy would be particularly focused on, and informed by, research, practice, processes, and procedures committed to promoting equitable distribution of resources, equal opportunity for all, non-exploitation, prevention of violence, active citizenry, liberation of oppressed peoples, and greater inclusion for historically marginalized groups, consistent with community psychology values.

    I believe that the latter is best captured by the following statement:

Community Psychology is guided by its core values of individual and family wellness, sense of community, respect for human diversity, social justice, citizen participation, collaboration and community strengths, and empirical grounding.  Community Psychology approaches are characterized by participant conceptualization, interventions that focus on problem prevention or health and wellness promotion, multilevel ecological and systems levels of analysis and action, a seeking (vs. waiting) orientation, collaboration with those who are exploited, oppressed, and lacking in voice, and a commitment to strengthening settings in which community psychologists interact and work.

    Note that making policy a priority for the next thee years is not the same as saying that SCRA, the EC, or its subgroups will be taking any specific policy positions.  We are most committed to fostering policy statements that are consistent with our values, including being empirically grounded, ecologically oriented, well-argued, cogent, and thought-provoking, with a strong link to feasible action.  It is quite possible that the SCRA Policy Market (a web site mechanism for policy sharing proposed by our Public Policy Committee) may feature two or more divergent views of the same problem, each presented from a CP perspective.  This would be a great contribution to public debate and policy making.  

    Ultimately, we want policy briefs that are associated with SCRA to be characterized by, and distinctive for, embodying the CP perspective, and we want the work of our Public Policy Committee and its web presence to make SCRA an important stop for those making public policy locally, globally, and anywhere in between.  For this to happen most credibly, the EC and the Public Policy Committee must take a lead role in exploring ways to have a rapid response capacity to policy issues that emerge quickly and would benefit from timely commentary. (For those who are concerned about overreaching, please note that the EC is restricting our policy focus for the first three years of our initiative to the planet Earth; we will not have postings on policy issues based in interplanetary or interstellar sources, at least not until a subcommittee studies these contexts from a participant-conceptualizer perspective.)

Organizational Mechanisms to Foster Policy Priorities and Improved Member Services

    Strategic prioritization around policy for the next three years, with key emphases on the kinds of research, practice, procedures, and processes that can best inform CP-oriented policy, touches on a vast proportion of our membership.  We view policy at the level of the municipality, county, state or province, region, and nation, as well as across nations. 

    While all of our members may not be actively engaged in policy formation, there is no doubt that our work has implications for the formulation of sound, realistic, sustainable policies that can have a positive impact on underserved, under-resourced, oppressed communities and individuals and groups without voice and who have otherwise been marginalized and exploited.  We want to lend our perspective and expertise in the interest of a more active, participatory, and informed citizenry and in the promotion of wellness.  To accomplish our goals, we must understand and become better skilled at the modalities of policy formulation and dissemination; hence, our emphasis on creating a Policy Brief Template and related policy tools such as Briefing Statements and Fact Sheets.  Our typical products—research articles, evaluation reports, procedural manuals, program descriptions, ethnomethodological and qualitative descriptions and the like- require translation into policy formats.  Plus, our own individual work, regardless of how worthy we think it might be and whether it is based in research or practice, will usually have to be meaningfully supplemented to serve as the basis of policy formulation. So new forms of collaboration among SCRA members and colleagues will be necessary.

    In my view, “new forms collaboration” are not only individual, but structural.  Within our committees, interest groups, and task forces, we would like a policy consciousness and policy contributions to be paramount, for the next three years.  These entities would go about their business with an eye toward their particular foci and an eye toward SCRA’s collective focus.

    Another important example is a concerted and systematic effort to have a policy presence or track at eco-conferences and other regional conferences.  We would ask conference planners to think about policy workshops, perhaps involving members of our Public Policy Committee talking about how to use the Policy Template and Policy Market that they will be establishing on the web site. Perhaps APA’s excellent policy resources would be brought in to do policy training (at no charge).  Perhaps our conferences at all levels would include creating at least some programs at which community psychologists and local/regional policy makers share a table in dialogue.

Functional Changes in SCRA Infrastructure to Improve Member Services and Participation

    The Executive Committee has taken a number of steps to modify our infrastructure toward providing better service to our members and better implementation of our priorities.  Some of these have been implemented and others are in process as of the time of this writing, but I am confident that what follows will come to pass by the end of September 2009, substantially as presented:

➢    The EC now has monthly conference calls and conducts votes via email that are confirmed at those conference calls. This has allowed us to move more quickly, more comprehensively, and with greater continuity than was afforded by our prior structure. 

➢    The Executive Committee will be restructured to include the Council of Education Programs as a voting entity, a newly formed Council of Practice and Career Paths, based on the current Practice Group, also as a voting entity, and one of our Member at Large positions redefined to include an Early Career emphasis and responsible for developing and sustaining an Early Career Committee and an ongoing mentoring program that capitalizes on the outstanding mentoring process that takes place at our biennial conferences.

➢    We will work with all of these entities and their members in more intentional ways to refine and disseminate the Value Proposition and the connection between undergraduate and graduate education in CP, continuing education in CP, ongoing mentoring and support, and career paths and emerging opportunities, inside and outside of academia. It is important to “brand” community psychology and the value-added that it can provide to a wide range disciplines and professional fields.  We must avoid over-identifying with psychology and avoid over-promoting SCRA, vs. the CP field.  (I owe Bill Neigher and the Practice Group a particular debt of gratitude for bringing the Value Proposition concept to the forefront.)

➢    There will be a Finance Committee to work alongside the Treasurer and address the disposition of SCRA resources in terms of investments and the growing of SCRA resources in terms of investments and endowments and other forms of giving, to allow us to reach our strategic priorities.  The Finance Committee will be empowered to avail itself of expertise from both within SCRA and outside SCRA, with appropriate oversight by the EC. 

➢    We are expanding our Publications Committee and its charge, to become our Publications and Electronic Communications Committee.  This Committee has been instrumental in articulating new relationships between SCRA, AJCP, TCP, and our AJCP publisher (Springer) and in exploring innovative possibilities for a publication series, innovative uses of our Web Site, and connections with the Global e-journal for Community Psychology Practice.

➢    I have asked our Network Coordinator, Bernadette Sanchez, to speak with our international network coordinators about changing their name to Liaisons and to reconceptualize their role as creating liaisons between SCRA and SCRA members in their regions and existing community psychology organizations within their regions.  We believe this will foster greater collaboration, present SCRA in its more appropriate stance and role, and help move the field toward a global community psychology.  A strong international presence at our 12th Biennial and the excitement about the First and Second International Community Psychology Conferences in Puerto Rico and Portugal in 2006 and 2008 and upcoming in Mexico in 2010, as well as vibrant community psychology organizations developing locally, nationally, and internationally worldwide, show that CP is alive and well and must be viewed from a global perspective. (You can read more about this, and the World Café, in the summary of the Final Plenary, at ).

➢    We will be providing more explicit support and mentoring for leadership within SCRA, particularly on the EC and at the Committee, Interest Group, and Task Force levels.  We also intend to revise our procedures for allocating resources to these groups, including requiring greater explicit accountability and connection with SCRA priorities.

➢    We will be increasing our staff resources, to assist with membership services and related matters.

➢    We are strongly considering a small grant or related program to provide financial assistance to research and practice initiatives that foster SCRA priorities and values, particularly diverse collaboration within SCRA, of SCRA with other organizations and disciplines, and across multiple ecological sectors.

Final Presidential Reflections

    During my tenure as President, I learned definitively that what is most distinctive about community psychology is the collection of values that guide our work.  I saw this in the way in which the EC goes about its work, living the values of CP, and I have seen this in the operation of many of our community psychology organizational groups, including, but not limited to, the Practice Group, the Public Policy Committee, the Publications Committee, the Council of Education Programs, and many of our awards committees.  The spirit and generosity of the Past Presidents was nothing less than inspiring, and their input, imbued with a CP perspective, has been and will continue to be invaluable.  And the planning and implementation of the Biennial was undertaken with explicit concern for and guidance by community psychology values, modeled most visibly by Milton Fuentes and Sandra Lewis, and was far better for it, in my opinion. 

    Attending numerous plenaries, presentations, posters, and the World Café also allowed me to realize that when we speak about our work in community psychology, our values come through strongly, even more than when we write about our work and typically have to fit our work into various publication-related constraints.  Across presentations on very different topics, by people in different locations and work contexts, and in various presentation formats, I could see the emergence of the constellation of values that defines CP and guides our work.   I also learned that when these values have not imbued the work in a genuine way, that becomes apparent as well.  Thanks to a number of presenters at the biennial, I now understand deeply that there are differences between clinical and a community psychology-informed approaches to issues relating to those with severe and chronic mental health/substance abuse and related problems.   There are complementarities to be sure, but there are also essential differences, revealed in the application of CP values to the ecological and developmental challenges of those circumstances.

    Perhaps it is pro forma to say that is has been a privilege to serve SCRA.  It certainly has been a privilege.  But having done so in two presidential roles, with one more, Past President, awaiting me, I feel that serving SCRA is tzedakah, from tzedek, a Hebrew term meaning “justice” that is often mis-translated as charity.  It is just- proper, appropriate, fitting, necessary, and fair- to serve a field that has given me so much, personally and professionally.  One might say that serving such a field is social justice, and therefore is not something one can do sporadically or selectively.  Serving a field that has served me so well is a form of moral obligation, far more enriching than it is taxing (though it certainly can be, and has been, the latter at times).  And so I look forward to my dual continuing roles of SCRA member and SCRA Past President with enthusiasm and readiness to continue my service, in the name of tzedakah.


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July 2, 2009
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Maurice Elias

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