Transforming the Mission, Leadership and Participatory Culture of SCRA

By Maurice Elias – July 27, 2009
OfflineMaurice Elias

In my waning days as SCRA President, I thought I would share some thoughts about ways to improve our organization and some of the ways that the Executive Committee (EC) and I have been working to set lasting change in motion. This is not an "official" position statement, just a personal one. I welcome all comments and feel a broad dialogue on how SCRA works would be valuable at this time of transition and opportunity.

During my Presidency, I have been working on transforming the mission, leadership, and participatory culture of SCRA.  A combination of increased SCRA resources, increased competition for people’s professional attention, the revolution in communications technology, and my renewed sense that SCRA has something special to offer the public have been my motivators.  While I have not accomplished everything I had planned, I learned a lot along the way.  I want to share my observations, perspective, and thoughts about next steps.  These are my own ideas and do not represent the thinking of the Executive Committee. 
I believe deeply and profoundly in action research.  By that I mean that I believe our best solutions will come from planning-action-adjustment, not looking too long for the ideal plan.  There is a lot more behind this, including the way that I believe action-adjustment engenders engagement and participation because it raises the stakes for everyone involved.  I live this every day in my CP work, now with over 220 school in NJ and numerous stakeholder professional organizations, etc., etc.  I believe that the SCRA Executive Committee (EC) does not have a desirably strong a set of ties with SCRA-related committees and groups because the EC is not sufficiently visible, active, and responsive to them, and to the membership in general, something that the EC and I have worked very hard to change this year.  We have made efforts to shift the participation dynamic and I feel that we are seeing a lot more action and collaboration of the EC with the Council of Education Programs (CEP), the  Publications, Policy, and Women’s Committees, and the Practice Group, in particular,  as a result.  I have tried to do the same with some other groups, but not I have not been able to do so with all groups; there are just not enough hours in my day.  But I feel we know the path to greater collaboration and participation:  Meaningful involvement in important work.  That's the key.
The operationalization of creating meaningful involvement in important work is the SCRA decision to prioritize a focus on Public Policy over the next three years, making SCRA a primary address for those interested in policy at the local, regional, state/provincial, national, and international levels.  Further, SCRA’s perspective on policy will be unique in that our approach to policy will be informed by primary community psychology values, expressed below in a way similar to how I framed it when discussing the Value Proposition:
Community Psychology is guided by its core values of individual and family wellness, sense of community, respect for human diversity, social justice and human dignity, 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, creating locally useful products,  collaboration with those who are exploited, oppressed, and lacking in voice, and a commitment to strengthening settings in which community psychologists interact and work.
I believe that we can now ask our committees to focus on the policy impact of their work.  What relevance does the work of the ethnic minority group have for policy?  GLBT?  Women’s Committee? Rural? School Intervention? Prevention?  Action-Research Centers?  Others?? I  certainly can see many examples.  Rather than operating largely independently, all of SCRA’s strongly and loosely affiliated groups have an opportunity to join the web-based SCRA Policy Market (being created by the Public Policy Committee with EC assistance) and contribute their ideas, concerns, and interests to that Market in ways that have added value for SCRA and the field of CP. 

As a result of creating a policy priority over the next three years, the EC now exists in a different kind of relationship with the Public Policy Committee.  Our newly formed EC Policy Subcommittee needs to work with the Policy Committee to develop formats, templates, products, and the Policy Market idea and time is of the essence.  The Policy Committee needs to work with the EC so that the forum for its work is not simply the work of a committee but that of SCRA.  I believe that the CEP has adopted a similar orientation, and I am working with the EC and the Practice Group to find a similar way of involving that group more substantially and systematically in ongoing EC collaboration.
I think we have a situation now that is generally asymmetric.  Groups want help from SCRA to do their work, SCRA generally has inadequate resources to provide, the work of the groups does not systematically or synergistically strengthen SCRA or CP as a field and they feel the EC is not particularly responsive or helpful, foci keep switching, and so we have a low level of participation in the organization because there is no clear incentive, no strongly apparent and tangible collective purpose.  I believe the EC has begun to take and must continue to take some bold action to catalyze second order change.  This involves increasing avenues for participation and clarifying the purposes of participation.  It involves creating opportunities for enacting the great principle, coined at an early morning APA symposium in 1982 with Jim Kelly as discussant, of the happy convergence of mutual self interest.
Any time one increases participation as a second order change strategy, one cannot predict well exactly what will happen.  So we have to have confidence in our ability to lead, as well as communicating effectively with SCRA members so that we can reflect their views as best we can.  But the sampling process of knowing members’ views is highly problematic, and having a voting process really does not solve the problem, certainly not as things are currently configured.  Perhaps in the future, voting participation will improve dramatically.  Until then, it’s up to the leadership to provide a vision and to lead, in my opinion, and to make adjustments as we go in the spirit of continuous improvement. 
I believe that if every member joined an SCRA group and/or regularly used the web site, we would be better able to enact our values in a forceful way. Please consider in particular the policy implications of your work and stay alert as the Policy Market opens and provides tools to post and share your policy perspectives.  May we all be guided by the wisdom of Hillel as we balance our many responsibilities, memberships, and allegiances. He said,

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself,
what am I? If not now, when?
Pirke Avot 1:14

I look forward to your comments.


About the author


OfflineMaurice Elias Maurice Elias said 4 years ago

I thought it would be good for my ego to post a comment so that there was a comment posted on this article.  While I was engaging in this exercise, I thought a suitable rating would also be a good idea.  But more to the point, I encourage readers to engage in a dialogue about the future of SCRA, because in a time of earthquake and national upheaval on the political front, with two wars in progress and Yemen looming as a concern, with debates about health care and immigration so active, if SCRA is not engaged and relevant in these times, well, Hillel said it best:  If not now, when?

OfflineAllen Ratcliffe Allen Ratcliffe said 4 years ago

Mo, I very much appreciate your perspective, your efforts to activate the EC, and your support of the Practice Group.  Thank you.

I hope your successors pick up the mantle and sustain the efforts you have started.

Al Ratcliffe

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