New research evaluates three frameworks for macro-level change

Published December 21, 2023


Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen.

Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, associate professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, has co-published a new paper in the Journal of Social Work.

The study — titled "Convergence of community social work practice, collective impact and design thinking: What, why and how?" — looks at three frameworks social workers can use to address complex social problems. The researchers evaluate the strengths and limitations of each approach, as well as how they intersect in social workers' efforts to push for social and economic justice and systems-level change.

Joining Bowen on the paper were lead author Gokul Mandayam, PhD, assistant professor at Rhode Island College, and Monica Nandan, PhD, professor at Kennesaw State University.


Social workers engage with marginalized communities impacted by challenges that are intensely complex and dynamic. This necessitates designing strategies and interventions that are sustainable, effective, nonduplicative and collaborative across systems and organizations.

This article aims to provide a synthesis of three frameworks that can intersect to facilitate systems-level change: community practice, collective impact and design thinking. Each framework provides unique contributions for bolstering contemporary macro social work practice.

Graphic of Lady Justice holding balanced scales.

This research contributes to one of the Grand Challenges for Social Work tackling our nation's toughest social problems: Achieve equal opportunity and justice.