Groups in Social Work Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Social Work Groups

Definition of Three Types of Groups

Most of us have participated in a task group at one point, and indeed many of us participate in tasks groups on a regular basis. A task group is any group of individuals who come together (or who are brought together) to produce a particular outcome, either a particular product or a specific action. Such groups exist in every aspect of life. Such groups can be found in business, such as a group formed to assess whether a company should shift to a new software system. Such a group might do research on different types of software, interview managers at other companies to determine how well different software systems work in similar situations, and survey the staff on their needs.

Task groups also exist in the political realm. Many communities across the country have recently been hosts to such groups as legislation redistricting has been reconsidered in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Census findings. Other political task groups are groups that come together to elect a person to an office or to support or defeat a piece of legislation, such as the different groups that recently formed to support or defeat healthcare reform.

By their very nature, task groups are limited in time. Because they are formed to accomplish a specific purpose, when that purpose is either accomplished or abandoned, then the purpose for the group to exist disappears and the group itself will end -- although in some cases the group can reform to pursue a different purpose. Membership in a task group can be either negative or positive, in part due to the fact that some groups meet their stated goals and others do not. But individuals also rate their experiences in task groups because of their specific experiences: For example, if their contributions are ignored, even if the group's tasks are accomplished, these individuals may go away with a negative experience.

Most task groups have a fairly well-defined leadership structure and tend to be relatively hierarchical. Because they are goal-oriented, task groups feature a relatively clear set of explicit rules as well as goals that are maintained by the leadership. This tends to create more efficient groups, although can also produce resentment over what can be perceived as a lack of democratic processes.

2. A social action group can be defined by the fact that it incorporates several different aspects. It is based initially on the fact that its members have identified a community problem and, having pinpointed this problem, determines how to address this problem through a particular course of action. Members of the group measure the progress that they have made by the degree that their actions (as well as their definition of the problem) affect the community as a whole.

The different types of groups are distinct from each other but can share different aspects. For example, social actions groups have developed around the issue of public health concerns, such as the difficulty that many individuals in both rural areas and inner-city areas have in getting access to healthy food. There is no single solution to this problem because it arises from a collection of complicated and inter-related factors, including wealth differentials between rural and urban areas, race relations in the United States, differing cultural concepts of what defines health, different cultural culinary traditions.

The concerns of social action groups over access to healthy food can intersect with the concerns and actions of other groups, such as those seeking to elect a particular person to office based on the beliefs of that person about reform in this area. However, while a task group is very clearly focuses on a specific outcome, a social action group has goals that are more diffuse, although certainly no less valid.

A social action group can be ongoing over a very long period of time because it tends to focus on an issue that is ongoing, such as improving public health, changing the nature of public education, or changing the ways in which corporations interact with the environment. They can measure their success not by the accomplishment of specific goals but by the fact that they have made their issue a part of the ongoing public dialogue, a part of the business of democracy.

Social action groups are generally more democratic in nature than task groups with a looser leadership structure. Because of this, they may be less obviously efficient. This leads to greater inclusion and thus a different internal culture. While there are costs to such a structure, there are also advantages in that it tends to be able to endure over the greater period of time that social issues themselves ensure. Moreover, a looser leadership style (that is, one in which a number of different people share in the tasks of leadership) allows for the greater time that these groups last. A long-lasting group cannot rely (in most cases) on a single leader because that person would not be able to maintain the required focus and energy over such a long period.

3. Treatment Groups share dynamics of both of the above types of groups. They are longer-term in general than task groups while being essentially task-oriented themselves. They tend to have the focused, hierarchical type of leadership evidenced in task groups with some greater element of democratic process that is true of social action groups. They are also focused on specific goals in the way that task groups are.

The internal structure of treatment groups as well as what might be termed their culture are dictated by a number of different factors, including the purpose of the treatment and the reason that treatment has been initiated. For example, if the treatment is mandated by the legal system, it will be both more focused as well hierarchical in terms of leadership. If treatment is for a condition that is focused on something that is extremely serious, such as heroin use or a serious eating disorder the leader(s) of the treatment group may be less democratic.

The benefits of a treatment group are that it is most effective for an individual or a small group (such as a family). Likewise, this is its primary limitation: It is not designed to meet the needs of a large group. This fact underscores the importance of selecting the type of group that is most appropriate to meet the goals of the group: A treatment group would be a dreadful failure in trying to increase the civil rights of gays, for example, just as a social action group would be a complete failure in helping an alcoholic to stop drinking.

Regional Examples of Each Group

That there should be examples of each of these types of groups in the Central Kentucky region since all three of these types of groups are very common. An example of a task group in this region is a magisterial redistricting group. This is an example of a task group in that it was time-limited because it had a goal that had to be met within a set period of time. The Jessamine County Fiscal Court was tasked with the job of assessing and approving proposed changes to the magisterial district boundaries.

There was a mandated time frame in which to do this and there was a formally designated group of people who had the authority to accomplish this task. There was also an established leadership hierarchy. There was a formal process as to who had the authority to determine when the goal had been met satisfactorily, and there was a clear boundary by which it could be determined that this goal had been completed. It is important to note at this point that while this is a task group, it (like every group) has individual characteristics.

While this task has been completed, the court as a whole continues to exist, of course. Also, while the number of individuals who had the power to determine the goal was formally limited, members of the public were invited to participate. Thus while the group was clearly defined at some level, on another level the boundaries were loosely defined, as I saw when I attended an open meeting in which the court listened to public comments.

An example of a social action group in the region is a range of environmental groups, including the Bluegrass Conservancy, a group that is dedicated to saving the state's rural past through buying up and protecting in perpetuity open land and agriculture traditions. This is an ongoing project, one that has no endpoint as there will always be conflicts in terms of land use. The group is loosely organized and is dedicated not only to specific short-term goals (such as buying up a specific piece of land to preserve it) but also (and more deeply) dedicated to the long-term goal of bringing issues of about protecting the land and open space to the public eye.

The group sponsors events to which everyone is welcome,…

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