Guidelines for ethical practice in community organization.
Subject: Social workers (Ethical aspects)
Social case work (Management)
Community organization (Ethical aspects)
Community organization (Standards)
Author: Hardina, Donna
Pub Date: 10/01/2004
Publication: Name: Social Work Publisher: National Association of Social Workers Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2004 National Association of Social Workers ISSN: 0037-8046
Issue: Date: Oct, 2004 Source Volume: 49 Source Issue: 4
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 290 Public affairs; 350 Product standards, safety, & recalls Advertising Code: 91 Ethics Computer Subject: Company business management
Organization: Organization: National Association of Social Workers
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 124487485
Full Text: Community organizers often encounter ethical dilemmas in practice. Most organizers engage on a regular basis with community residents, constituency groups, local institutions, and government decision makers. Consequently, most practice activities occur outside traditional agency settings and are not directly addressed in the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Although community practice principles such as self-determination, informed consent, and protection of confidentiality are identified in the Code, situational factors make their application different than in direct practice. This article identifies the values inherent in community practice, describes ethical issues encountered by organizers, and examines tools available to organizers for resolving common ethical dilemmas.

Key words: community organization; macro practice; social change; social work ethics; values


Social work is built around an ethical code that makes it distinct from other professions. The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (2000) primarily focuses on the context of clinical practice with individuals. The Code does not cover many of the practice situations a typical community organizer can encounter (Reisch & Lowe, 2000). For example, social action organizing often involves confrontation tactics. Picketing, demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts can be potentially harmful to members of the target group, causing humiliation, social ostracism, or loss of employment (Fisher, 1994).

Little discussion has taken place in schools of social work about the ethics of using such tactics. There are no specific provisions in the NASW Code that help the organizer sort out these "means versus ends" dilemmas (Reisch & Lowe, 2000). Consequently, efforts to resolve ethical dilemmas are made on a case-by-case basis (Hardcastle, Wenocur, & Powers, 1997). This can cause con fusion for entry-level social workers in community practice.

In this article I explore ethical issues inherent in community organization practice and identify the values inherent in the ethical dilemmas faced by social workers who engage in community practice. Concepts such as "informed consent" and "conflict of interest" as they apply to community work are discussed. In addition, I discuss the ethical implications of using confrontation tactics. Ethical frameworks that can be used in community practice and resources available to help social workers resolve ethical dilemmas that occur in community practice are described.

Basic Community Organization Values

Lowenberg and Dolgoff (1996) distinguished between values and ethics (Hardina, 2002). Values are statements of an ideal that we try to achieve, whereas ethics offer us directives for action derived from the desired outcomes. The NASW Code of Ethics identifies a number of values, such as self-determination, protection of confidentiality, equal distribution of resources, and promotion of cultural diversity in service provision that social workers must uphold. Ethical practices, most often activities that pertain to clinical work with individuals, are also identified in the Code. However, community organization can be viewed as a unique field of practice requiring an ethical code and a theoretical framework that commits the organizer to the struggle for social justice (Reamer, 1999). Such a commitment requires that an organizer fight to improve economic conditions and civil rights for members of marginalized groups (Rivera & Erlich, 1998). Although the NASW Code of Ethics is explicit about the responsibility of social workers to promote social justice (NASW, 2000, Standards 6.01 and 6.03), it does not specify actions that social workers must take to achieve it (Bull, 1989).

The NASW Code of Ethics (2000) primarily focuses on the context of working in or managing a social services agency. The chief limitation of the NASW Code for organizers is that most of their work takes place in a context outside of the agency in collaboration or conflict with individuals, small groups, and organizations. Although the Code's ethical principles should be followed by all social workers, it does not begin to cover many of the practice situations a typical organizer may encounter (Hardina, 2002). Ethical practice in community work differs from clinical practice in that

* social transformation is the primary goal of the intervention.

* "clients" are primarily constituency group members, residents of target communities, and members of marginalized populations. In many instances, organizers do not have direct contact with all members of the client group. It should be noted that organizers often reject the use of the term "client," believing that it implies dependence on the social worker (Cohen, 1998).

* both the social worker and the program constituents must develop a critical consciousness about social and economic conditions that contribute to the marginalization of oppressed groups (Freire, 1970; Gutierrez & Alvarez, 2000). Although the empowerment model, the structural approach, and feminist practice incorporate principles associated with social transformation, most interventions with individuals, families, and groups do not require that participants critically examine economic and social factors that are associated with individual problems (Gutierrez, Parsons, & Cox, 1998).

* most interventions take place in partnership with constituency group members. In some situations, the group serves as the organizer's employer (Rivera & Erlich, 1998). Constituent self-determination is one of the primary objectives of community practice. Consequently, it is expected that constituents and organizers engage in mutual learning and dialogue to determine the best method of intervention (Freire, 1970; Gutierrez & Alvarez, 2000).

* the organizer may be a member of the community in which he or she is working. The organizer may be a resident of a geographic community or political district in which he or she is assigned. In other situations, the organizer may identify with or be a member of a specific demographic group (for example, an ethnic group or people with disabilities) that serves as the constituency base for the organizing effort (Delgado, 1997).

* ethical conduct is often viewed as situational, requiring that the organizer assess the seriousness of the issue, the accessibility of the decision makers, and possible risks before deciding on the use of tactics (Netting, Kettner, & McMurty, 1993; Warren, 1971).

Community Organization and Ethical Practices

The types of interventions used by the organizer, the client groups involved, the targets of the social change efforts, and the urgency of the issues involved create a number of situations that are not adequately covered by the NASW Code of Ethics (Warren, 1971). The Code is inadequate to address ethical concerns for organizers involving conflicts of interest associated with financial transactions and dual relationships with community residents. Additional areas of concern include the choice of tactics used by the organizer, situations in which the organizer's values conflict with the preferences of constituents or employers, and the concept of informed consent.

Conflict of Interest

Organizers are likely to experience a number of conflicts of interest. Many of these conflicts may occur in a slightly different context than those identified in the Code of Ethics. Conflicts in community practice can occur because of the nature of the interpersonal dynamics involved in organizing (often focusing on exchange of information and goods and services) and the need to mobilize and recruit participants. Problems also occur because an organizer must find appropriate mechanisms to gather information about the community and its culture. Situations in which the organizer is a member of the community he or she serves are also problematic.

Membership in the Target Community. One of the more difficult issues in community organization practice among social workers is that many organizers are members of the community they seek to organize. In many instances, advocacy organizations hire organizers who are of the same culture, gender, or gender orientation as the geographic or demographic group the organization serves. The preference for organizers who personally identify with the target community is based on the premise that an organizer must be culturally competent and have a personal understanding of the political oppression experienced in marginalized communities (Delgado, 1997). Rivera and Erlich (1998) argued that only organizers who are of the same ethnicity as constituents should attempt to organize in communities of color. Much of the practice literature, however, is premised on the belief that cultural competence can be acquired by organizers who incorporate many of the principles articulated by Freire (1970) in the organizing process: partnership with constituents, ongoing dialogue, and mutual learning (Gutierrez & Alvarez, 2000).

Membership or identification with the target community may have disadvantages as well as advantages. For example, an organizer who lives in the target geographic community may find that intervention strategies can adversely affect friends, relatives, and neighbors. An organizer charged with coordinating a boycott of neighborhood business could experience difficulty if a cousin's store was to be included in the boycott. In addition, an organizer who is part of the same marginalized population as his or her constituents may not be able to remain neutral during discussions of appropriate strategies and tactics. For example, an organizer who is a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community may support a recommendation to "out" a gay politician, because of his or her own experience of oppression rather than examine the ethical implications of such an action. Consequently, organizers working within their own culture or demographic group may need to carefully weigh their personal goals and values with ethical considerations when examining appropriate tactical options.

Financial Conflict of Interest. Bringing constituents and institutions together often requires the development of social networks and the exchange of information, goods, and services. Consequently, organizers may patronize neighborhood businesses to acquire information about the community or to recruit volunteers. Delgado (1996) has written extensively about how small businesses such as grocery stores and beauty parlors play key roles in providing assistance and emotional support to residents of low-income communities. Conceivably, patronizing some businesses over others may generate conflicts of interest and make it difficult for the organizer to bring additional businesses or groups into the organizing process. Organizers may also encounter ethical dilemmas when they invest money in community businesses. Tactical decisions may be required that can help or hinder the organizer's investments (Reamer, 2003). Although most community organization work does not involve fees for services, organizers working as consultants to community groups or paid staff on political campaigns may find that certain recommendations made to employers may generate financial benefits for the consultant while putting the organization at financial risk. In such circumstances, the organizer must weigh personal interests with potential positive and negative outcomes for the organization.

Friendships with Constituents. Friendships with members of the constituency group often are essential to the organizing effort, especially when the organizer needs to acquire knowledge about the culture and lifestyle of community members (Congress, 1996; Hardina, 2002; Rivera & Erlich, 1998). Going to birthday parties, weddings, and block parties is an essential part of the organizer's role. Establishing trusting relationships with volunteers is of utmost importance. The organizer should use a combination of practice experience, guidance from peers and supervisors, and knowledge of the Code of Ethics to establish appropriate boundaries with constituents.

Sexual Relationships. One of the most problematic issues for an organizer is determining appropriate personal boundaries about sexual relationships. If the community is one's client, is the organizer prohibited from engaging in an intimate relationship with all community members? Obviously, such a prohibition is unfeasible (Hardina, 2002). Yet, where should organizers draw appropriate boundaries for friendships and dating situations?

The Code of Ethics makes it very clear that relationships with current clients, workplace subordinates, and students are prohibited (Reamer, 1999). However, organizers should add board members, employers, and targets (that is, individual decision makers and their associates) to this list (Hardina, 2002). Conflicts of interest are involved that interfere with performance evaluations and the success of organizing efforts. Most volunteers and constituents involved in organizing campaigns are also off-limits. Robinson and Reeser (2000) argued that it is the practitioner's responsibility to establish clear boundaries with constituents. It is especially important because the organizer, when recruiting participants, is generally the individual who has power in the relationship by virtue of professional status, knowledge, and possession of sensitive information. Often an organizer who works with members of marginalized groups also has power by virtue of his or her socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or gender (Rivera & Erlich, 1998). In addition, establishing intimate relationships with some constituents can lead to charges of exploitation or harassment (NASW, 2000, Sect. 1.09, 1.10, 1.11, 2.07, and 2.08). This is particularly of concern when the volunteer does not genuinely support the cause or when organizing activities may place the volunteer at risk (such as arrest or losing a job).

Choice of Tactics

Tactical methods are short-term actions used to carry out strategic interventions (Mondros & Wilson, 1994). Because of the urgency of the issue or time constraints, some tactical methods may violate social norms or put constituents and members of opposition groups at risk (Warren, 1971). Consequently, organizers must carefully weigh tactical outcomes in terms of costs and benefits as well as the unintended consequences of these methods. Two types of activities that are especially problematic for organizers involve the use of confrontational tactics and potentially sacrificing short-term benefits for more substantive changes in social policies or legislation.

Use of Confrontation Tactics. Alinsky (1971) argued that the "ends justify the means." He believed that any tactic is appropriate if it allows organizers to be successful in fighting for a cause (Hardina, 2002). For example, on a number of occasions, Alinksy brought African American volunteers into white communities and institutions to confront and frighten members of elite groups engaged in harmful or exclusionary practices (Fisher, 1994). Tactics such as these may cause humiliation, social ostracism, or loss of employment and income for the targets of the social change activity as well as participants in the action.

One of the primary ethical dilemmas faced by organizers is whether the ends of intended outcomes always justify the means or tactics used to achieve them (Reisch & Lowe, 2000). Hardina (2000) surveyed community organization instructors in schools of social work and asked them to identify tactics they felt were unethical. Respondents identified the following unethical tactics "violence, deceit, and causing personal degradation or harm" (p. 13). Other unethical tactics identified included lying or putting people at risk without adequately informing them of the consequences (Hardina, 2002).

In community organization, unintended violence can occur in relation to social change-related actions (for example, strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations). In addition, some organizers believe that the seriousness of the issue--risk of death or injury to innocent populations--could require the escalation of confrontation tactics or civil disobedience (Hardina, 2002). For example, one respondent in Hardina's (2000) study of tactical decision making described the situation in which he found the following tactics unethical:

Long-Term versus Short-Term Gains. Organizers also confront situations in which short-term help for individuals is sacrificed for long-term goals (Bailey & Brake, 1975). For example, we may decline to help a number of individuals replace stolen food stamp benefits for the preceding month rather than asking them to participate in a class action suit that challenges the way food stamps are allocated and delivered to participants. In such cases, the immediate well-being of the individual is sacrificed for the greater good. The principle of self-determination identified in the NASW Code requires that constituents be fully informed and involved in making such decisions (Hardina, 2002). Helping constituents acquire resources from other service providers can soften short-term sacrifices.

Value Conflict

An issue specific to organizing has to do with whether the organizer engages in social action at odds with his or her own values (Hardina, 2002). If we are to promote self-determination and empowerment, should not the organizer follow all directives given by constituency group members? Fisher (1994), in Let the People Decide, described Alinsky's efforts to organize cross-culturally in the "back of the yards" neighborhood in Chicago. Recruitment of traditional community leaders and institutions to head the organizing process resulted in the adoption of conservative politics (and a failure to support integration efforts) by the organization. A similar dilemma might occur for an organizer in situations where residents decide to organize against the location of a group home or halfway house in their neighborhood. Organizers need to weigh specific ethical values (such as self-determination and social justice) and assess personal risks and benefits before taking action to resolve such conflicts. For example, is the loss of one's job the potential price for challenging one's employer? Can or should the organizer live with the ethical dilemma involved in following through with employer or constituent demands for actions that conflict with his or her own professional values?

Informed Consent

Informed consent in clinical practice often requires that clients sign written statements that list the benefits and risks associated with specific interventions. Organizers generally dispense with written consent forms. It is assumed that they will be explicit with constituents about the consequences of participation in organizing efforts. However, without written notices there are limited ways to ensure that consent has been obtained (Lowenberg & Dolgoff, 1996). We may assume that lack of a verbal response to a request for action implies consent, when in fact this is not the case (Hardina, 2002). People can decide to withdraw consent in risky situations simply by failing to act or attend certain events. One procedure used by organizers to obtain consent involves a meeting in which all members debate risks and benefits of the proposed action and attempt to reach a consensus on the tactics to be used (Lee, 1986). This procedure is probably the best method of establishing that the majority of participants support the proposed action. However, this process is also time consuming; it may not always be possible to achieve a consensus or to consult with all potential participants before the action takes place. In any case, constituents should be fully informed about the consequences of their actions, especially when personal sacrifices (such as job loss, arrest, or social stigma) are great.

Tools for Making Ethical Decisions in Practice

Although some of the principles in the NASW Code can be modified for use in community organization, social workers need a process for resolving ethical dilemmas encountered in practice. According to Hardcastle and colleagues (1997), ethical dilemmas occur when "ethical guidelines do not give clear directions or indicate clearly which ethical imperative to follow" (p. 22). Dilemmas must be linked to specific outcomes that the organizer hopes to achieve (Rothman, 1998). The organizer can use prevailing theories to sort out ethical dilemmas and establish appropriate goals (Hardina, 2002). Theories may be deontological, involving "good" or "right" motives or teleological, involving good or right outcomes to be achieved by the social change effort in question (Rothman).

Adherents of the deontological perspective believe that certain actions must always be taken as a matter of principle (Reamer, 1998). For example, a deontologist would maintain that the principle of self-determination must always be followed, even when time, resources, and limited access to information do not permit full consultation with constituents. Adherence to such a principle may have important implications. If an organizer maintains that all constituents must be consulted before a government grant is accepted, the organization may lose a source of funds critical for the immediate fiscal stability of the organization (Hardina, 2002).

Alternatively, a teleological perspective requires that the action produce the greatest good for individuals or society as a whole. One teleological approach, utilitarianism, mandates that all ethical decisions produce the greatest good for the greatest number (Lowenberg & Dolgoff, 1996). A teleologist could conceivably argue that "mudslinging" in a political campaign is appropriate if it results in the election of a public official who supports progressive or social work-related causes (Hardina, 2002).

Selecting one overall approach to ethical decision making when dealing with complex situations may prove confusing for community practitioners. Several tools or frameworks help organizers choose between these two approaches.

These tools include

* using a decision-making framework derived from the NASW Code of Ethics.

* using a decision-making framework developed for the use of community practitioners in social work.

The NASW Code of Ethics

Some ethical dilemmas faced by social workers in community practice can be addressed directly using the principles in the NASW Code of Ethics (Hardina, 2002). Lowenberg and Dolgoff (1996) developed an Ethical Rules Screen. Lowenberg and Dolgoff advise the social worker to determine whether principles in the Code apply to the ethical dilemma examined. If the situation is not identified in the Code or if two or more ethical principles conflict, the Ethical Rules Screen should be applied. The principles in the Screen are to be applied in descending order:

Principle No. 1 Protection of Life

Principle No. 2 Equality and Inequality

Principle No. 3 Autonomy and Freedom

Principle No. 4 Least Harm

Principle No. 5 Quality of Life

Principle No. 6 Privacy and Confidentiality

Principle No. 7 Truthfulness and Full Disclosure (p. 63).

In addition to these principles, Lowenberg and Dolgoff (1996) recommended that the worker examine the impact of the decision on the recipient of the action and assess whether she or he can explain the rationale behind the decision to others (Hardina, 2002). The organizer must determine who is the primary recipient of his or her actions. Is the constituent or client an individual, a group of people, or society in general? Also problematic are situations in which the organizer's actions may benefit members of one marginalized group while putting another oppressed group at risk. For example, locating a homeless shelter in an area with a large transient population may seem to be a good solution to a difficult social problem. However, if the site is adjacent to an elementary school (and parents have reason to be concerned about substance abuse and prostitution-related activities), the proposed solution may put small children at risk.

The chief advantage of Lowenberg and Dolgoff's (1996) Ethical Rule Screen is that it helps social workers use a problem-solving approach to ethical decision making and provides a values framework, explicitly from the Code of Ethics. In situations in which ethical values may conflict with one another, social workers need to identify their own values and assess the importance of those values vis-a-vis others. Other ethical decision-making frameworks developed for social workers include Reamer's (1999), Robinson and Reeser's (2000), and Parsons' (2001).

An Ethical Decision-Making Framework for Organizers

Reisch and Lowe (2000) developed a series of steps to help community organizers who are social workers resolve ethical dilemmas:

* Identify the ethical principles that apply to the situation at hand.

* Collect additional information necessary to examine the ethical dilemma in question.

* Identify the relevant ethical values and/or rules that apply to the ethical problem.

* Identify any potential conflicts of interest and the people who are likely to benefit from such conflict.

* Identify appropriate ethical rules and rank order them in terms of importance.

* Determine the consequences of applying different ethical rules or ranking these rules differently (p. 26).

Because this decision-making model allows the organizer flexibility in choosing and prioritizing ethical rules, different organizers achieve different outcomes (Hardina, 2002). Reisch and Lowe (2000) also noted that some situations that appear to contain ethical dilemmas for the organizer are actually problems that should be addressed by others (for example, constituency group members or targets). Consequently, before confronting the dilemma in question, the organizer must determine whether he or she is responsible for handling the problem.

Constructing Your Own Ethics Model

One of the advantages of the Reisch and Lowe (2000) problem-solving approach is that it allows the organizer to sort out the implications of actions for the various parties involved, including implications for the organizer. The other advantage of this model is that it can be used in conjunction with basic principles derived from the Code of Ethics as identified in the Lowenberg and Dolgoff (1996) Ethical Rule Screen. Organizers can add other principles (such as mutual learning and empowerment) to develop a personal ethical framework that can be used effectively in community practice. Ethical principles may be chosen that reflect the organizer's own values, the seriousness of the issue addressed, and the preferences and culture of the participants. For example, an organizer fighting the location of a toxic waste dump in a Southeast Asian community may be faced with an ethical dilemma when clan leaders have decided to support the facility because it will provide jobs for community residents. Principles of importance to the community such as respect for one's elders should be incorporated into the organizer's decision-making framework

The model can also be configured to include additional safeguards that can enhance the decision-making process (see Figure 1). One of the first steps an organizer should take in addressing an ethical dilemma is to determine whether he or she should address the issue alone or whether the issue needs to be handled through dialogue with constituents or addressed by other individuals involved in the organizing process. If the organizer is responsible for addressing the issue, he or she can begin to identify the ethical dilemma in question, the ethical rules that may apply, and possible conflicts of interests he or she may encounter. The organizer should then construct a list of ethical principles to be followed in the decision-making process and rank them in order of importance. The consequences of applying this framework to the ethical dilemma should also be examined. As an additional safeguard, the organizer should examine the consequences of applying a different set of principles or rank ordering the principles differently when making a final decision.


A problem-solving approach for ethical decision making should include consultation. An organizer should not try to resolve ethical dilemmas alone in situations that involve constituents or employers (especially when the action could place constituents at risk). In addition to constituency group members, appropriate people to consult in ethical decision making include peers, supervisory staff, and organization board members. Working organizers have the experience and vision to analyze the potential impact of ethical decisions. Members of the organizer's employing organization can give insight into the potential legal implications and political consequences associated with some decisions (Tropman, 1997). Many practicing organizers find mentors (often staff from other agencies or community activists) who help them obtain the skills necessary to become social change agents (Kaminski, Kaufman, Graubarth, & Robins, 2000). NASW can provide resources for organizers involved in organizing for better working conditions or to provide better services for clients or constituents. Other professional organizations include the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration and the (non-social work-related) National Organizer's Alliance. COMM-ORG, an online organization, also provides information and support for organizers.

This model can be easily applied to situations that are likely to be encountered during community organization practice. For example, an organizer has a paid position as a field coordinator for a candidate for state governor. Recent polls have revealed that the candidate is losing 53 percent to 47 percent. The candidate's opponent has pledged to drastically cut welfare benefits for most welfare recipients. The organizer is worried that this legislation could cause substantial harm, increasing homelessness, hunger, and risk of serious health problems for many low-income families. Both candidates have pledged to refrain from negative campaign advertising. The organizer receives information about the opposition candidate from a source that has asked that his confidentiality be protected. He has given the organizer detailed proof that the candidate's opponent has purchased cocaine recently from street dealers. Releasing the information to the public may pose a serious risk for the health and well-being of the source. What does the organizer do with this information? Does he or she

* inform the candidate and the campaign manager? Argue that the release of this information to the press would ensure a victory for the candidate?

* inform the candidate and the campaign manager? Argue that this information should be turned over to the opposition candidate?

* design an "ad" campaign that uses this information to discredit the opponent? Convince the candidate that such ads are critical to the success of his campaign?

* do nothing? Put the documentation through the office shredder?

An ethical framework for this practice situation might include the following principles:

* protection of life

* privacy and confidentiality

* promoting civil discourse or refraining from mudslinging in the campaign.

If the organizer takes a teleological approach, seeking to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, he or she might argue that protection of the lives of low-income families should be the principle given highest priority. Of less importance would be the principles associated with the candidates' pledge to refrain from negative campaigning or protecting the confidentiality of the individual who provided the information.

Alternatively, the organizer using a deontological approach would argue that certain actions are either right or wrong. In this instance, the principles associated with the candidates' pledge to refrain from negative campaigning and protecting the confidentiality of the information source would be ranked highest on the list of ethical principles. However, it should be noted that the problem-solving model presented in this article also requires the organizer to consider whether he or she should resolve the ethical dilemma alone or consult with peers and supervisors. The possible consequences of any decisions considered must also be explored. In this instance, can the organizer be sure that low-income people will suffer if the opposition candidate is elected? What are the possible consequences for the informant if his or her identity becomes known?


Community organization practice is a unique form of social work. Basic practice methods draw on some of the sample principles as other practice modalities. However, much of the work of community organizers takes place outside agency settings and involves using power and influence to achieve social change. Consequently, organizers need adequate tools to resolve ethical dilemmas they encounter in practice.

Recently, community organization as a field of practice has come under pressure to use methods and practices consistent with other areas in social work. Many schools of social work have adopted generalist or multisystems models of practice. Graduates are expected to intervene in diverse systems depending on situational factors (Ryan, DeMasi, Heinz, Jacobson, & Ohmer, 2000). Also of concern is that new community practitioners are less likely to be professional social workers and more likely to be recruited from the ranks of urban planners or public health specialists. Such practitioners are not well equipped to focus on both individual needs and community systems. Consequently, we must make sure that instruction in community organization practice continues to be offered in schools of social work. To remain a vital part of the social work curriculum, we must continue to explore methods for integrating micro and macro practice.

Discussion about how community organization "fits" in the framework of ethical practice is now more critical than ever. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) recently proposed that state legislatures adopt a "Model Social Work Practice Act," which would require that all social workers, not just mental health clinicians, be licensed. The act would apply to any bachelor's or master's degree graduate from a school of social work. State licensing boards would design standardized tests for recent graduates and set continuing education requirements. In addition, the boards would be able to terminate licenses for any individual convicted of a minor felony or found not to be of "good moral character" (ASWB, 2002). Such state regulation of social work practice could lead to the filing of disciplinary action against any social worker engaged in social change activities, especially if such activity involves confrontation with politically powerful individuals.

Consequently, if we are to sustain social work's commitment to social justice, we must strengthen community organization practice. Although the literature describes community organization values in detail, few resources are available for identifying practice skills (Johnson, 1996). One of the more logical steps would seem to be that we better articulate the knowledge base and skills associated with community practice and develop appropriate curriculum (Gamble, Shaffer, & Weil, 1994). We must develop explicit guides and frameworks for the ethical practice of community organization. Organizers should conduct research oriented toward finding out how community organization values, ethics, knowledge, and skills are transmitted to workers in agency settings and in social change organizations.


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Donna Hardina, PhD, is professor, Department of Social Work Education, California State University, Fresno, 5310 Campus Drive, Fresno, CA 93740; e-mail: An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, March 2001, Dallas.

Original manuscript received November 18, 2002 Final revision received July 16, 2003 Accepted November 18, 2003
Violence, terrorism, destruction of property,
   lying, stealing (although I would have used any
   and all of these against the Nazis). I would have
   no problem with militant direct action, which
   is nonviolent, but against the law. (p. 13)
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