Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: The Slow Process of Change

     Change is hard. Anyone who has ever tried to give up a bad habit or take up a good habit can attest to this fact. And yet when we consider changing our societies to mitigate climate change, we naively assume that if we just figure out the right thing to do, somehow everything will fall into line. The fact of the matter is that change is a slow process, even for very minor changes. The greater the change and the more people involved in making it, the more difficult it will be to sustain.
     Community psychology has long explored the process of creating and maintaining community change. Much like the process a person goes through when attempting to change themselves for the better, a community must go through a series of steps to make lasting change. When you consider that the response to climate change means a planet-ful of communities must go through this same series of steps, you begin to realize the difficulty in responding to climate change.
     I teach a course at the University of Hawai`i, Mānoa called “Cultural Community Psychology and Global Climate Change.” In the short video mini-lecture below, I explain the steps taken to create and sustain a positive change. The societal and global changes necessary to adapt to climate change must incorporate this process if we want to implement lasting changes successfully.

Kati Corlew, M.A.

University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There's No Place Like Homeless

Right after I mostly retired a few years ago, I volunteered to work one day per week in a large homeless feeding kitchen. My experiences there led me to start attending the monthly meeting of the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – a group of approximately 50 providers of services to homeless people. A couple of years ago, I was asked to participate in the HUD-mandated Homeless Continuum of Care (CofC).

There is probably a CofC in your county. It develops comprehensive plans to end homelessness and makes recommendations to the county and to HUD about funding housing development and support services. It is an interesting place to do community psychology. I have participated in policy development, consolidation of three different county plans to end homelessness (each required by a different funder) into one integrated and more holistic plan, review of grant requests, and governance of the CofC. Currently I am serving as chairperson.

Like your state (unless you live in North Dakota or Alaska) the State of Washington is experiencing a major fiscal crisis. Our state has no income tax and the voters have repeatedly rejected efforts to authorize one. We rely upon sales taxes and “business and occupation” taxes to finance state government. Both of these are markedly sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. Our social safety net is in shreds as state government revenues keep falling.

I have been especially concerned about how people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness can survive as their sources of income are eliminated. I have been advocating for some time that our county needs to do contingency planning for a dramatic increase in homeless individuals, couples, and families with children. As part of that process, I began to gather statistical data about the probable extent of the emergency in Pierce County. I wrote an editorial, subsequently published by our local newspaper summarizing what I learned. You will find it here. Later I learned from the Washington Department of Labor that from January through October of 2011, 70,643 Pierce County residents have exhausted their unemployment compensation. We have no idea how many spouses and children are impacted or how they are faring, but we can predict that a significant number are at high risk of homelessness.

Pierce County now is starting a contingency planning process to try and mediate our pending homelessness emergency. Involved will be Pierce County and City of Tacoma staff members, Associated Ministries, hopefully an architect/planner, informal advice from the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, and me.

What are the lessons for Community Psychology? Willingness to get involved will be welcomed by your community. A holistic overview is valuable, although the scope of the need may feel truly overwhelming. Collaboration with other professions in search of solutions is fundamental. Many human service providers share our values. Gathering and aggregating data is very helpful. Informing the general public about both scope and consequences is fundamental, and local news media are willing to help accomplish that.

Al Ratcliffe, Ph. D
Tacoma, WA

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kickstarting Social Change: Community Psychology & Crowdfunding

Though I may decry the commercialization of holidays, I must admit that I do love giving and receiving gifts. But what if we could harness this energy, this spirit of generosity, this money that we spend on frenzied holiday shopping to collectively build something amazing? The answer is that people are already doing this, in the growing phenomenon known as crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is the term used when many people collectively pool their money to fund something they believe in. In a sense, it’s an old concept – people have been pooling money for ages. However, as with many established practices, it has been transformed by the Internet. The proliferation of crowdfunding platforms has allowed artists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and activists to raise money and report on the progress of their efforts in a completely new way. The phenomenon has even prompted legislation to allow for crowdfunded investments, and despite some detractors, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act overcame the usually partisan U.S. politics to pass through the House of Representatives 407-17.

In a typical crowdfunding scenario, a person or group posts their idea online and sets a fundraising goal. They’re encouraged to provide as many details about their project as possible, and to spread the word to their social networks about their campaign. Most platforms take a percentage of contributions, which may vary depending on whether or not the goal has been reached. Some platforms, like the very popular art funding site Kickstarter, have an all-or-nothing model in which funds are kept in escrow and only processed if the fundraising goal has been met. In many cases, people will receive perks for contributing, and there will be several levels at which people could contribute with progressively better perks.

With the passing of this recent legislation, I expect to see more sites that offer actual monetary returns on investment, but my experience with crowdfunding so far has mostly centered on artistic projects. Earlier this year, I helped a musician friend raise funds to help pay for the production of her album on IndieGoGo, and people who contributed received copies of the album once it was made, along with other perks. Another musician I’m a fan of wanted to make an album of cover songs and started a Kickstarter campaign as an experiment, finding to his delight that his fan base was sufficiently excited about the idea that they exceeded his $3600 fundraising goal in a matter of days, eventually contributing over $15,000.

Here are some more examples of crowdfunding in action:

  • The Occupy movement has made extensive use of crowdfunding, raising $75,000 on Kickstarter  to create the Occupy Wall St. Journal and thousands on Loudsauce for various media campaigns, such as running a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle
  • Social entrepreneur and noted roller derby enthusiast Micki Krimmel used Kickstarter to raise funds for Neighbor Goods, an online platform in which people can share resources with others in their community
  • A man in Newfoundland, Canada raised $7000 on Indiegogo to help out a friend whose house burned down 
  • Members of Musicians Without Borders have raised over $3000 and have until February 1st, 2012 to reach its goal of $15,000 for the Rwanda Youth Music program. A widget advertising their campaign is embedded in the beginning of this post.
Although these are all success stories, it bears mentioning that for every success there are many failures. Crowdfunding platforms are not magic – if you can’t get people to buy into your idea and contribute funds, it won’t work. There’s often a lot of behind-the-scenes fundraising and some may question why they should use a site that will collect a percentage of money they mostly raised from their own friends and fans. However, there can be a significant value add for those who are willing to put the time into really thinking through and promoting their projects. As crowdfunding continues to grow, we may find increasing opportunities to pool community resources to invest in sustainable businesses or launch social enterprises that improve community well-being. Community psychology practitioners can be at the forefront of this, reminding people that while the holidays come and go,we can spend our funds the rest of the year creating lasting positive change.

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Monday, November 21, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: Political Debates and Cognitive Dissonance

     Scientists are often perplexed by the political nature of the climate change debate. After all, whether or not people accept the evidence supporting the existence of climate change has nothing to do with politics—it has to do with whether or not people accept scientific evidence.
     However, the truly political question—what should we do about climate change?—may be too contentious a topic when we consider the psychological need for consistency between our social and political identities, our morality, and our behaviors. The desire to avoid inconsistency may be driving our desire to avoid that second question—what should we do about climate change? Instead, people focus on whether or not climate change is real, hoping to avoid the ‘what to do about it’ debate entirely.
     I teach a course at the University of Hawai`i, Mānoa called “Cultural Community Psychology and Global Climate Change.” This course explores how human diversity affects the ways in which we respond to and are impacted by climate change. In the short video mini-lecture below, I discuss how the psychological concept cognitive dissonance may be increasing the politicization of the climate change debate.

Kati Corlew, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Resisting the Marshmallow: Community Psychology & Willpower

Though most famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo was for a while more interested in talking about a much gentler-sounding (though similarly cruel) study: the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.

In the marshmallow experiment, 4-year olds were presented with the choice of eating one treat (e.g. a marshmallow) immediately or waiting and getting two treats. Years later, those who had delayed gratification had a host of better outcomes, including significantly better SAT scores. Zimbardo was interested in this experiment as it related to his theories about time and future orientation, but most would describe it in terms of simple self-control.

Yet there is very little that is simple about self-control. This is the subject of a recent book by Baumeister & Tierny titled “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.” The title of the book sounds like it may have a simplistic “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” message, and indeed the beginning of the book reads like a rejection of the tenets of community psychology, and any other discipline that attends to societal influences on individual behavior.

But is the concept of willpower really at odds with community psychology?

The authors go on to explain how, in study after study, they found that willpower isn’t really what we think it is. It’s not really about exerting some extraordinary feat of energy and resistance. Rather, willpower is like a muscle, something that can be depleted in the short-term, but that can also be built up in the long term. Exerting willpower does take energy, in the form of glucose, which can also be depleted through decision making, but people who appear to have a lot of self-control use their willpower to build up habits that make it easier for them to make good choices without using up energy. The fact that willpower requires glucose is part of what makes dieting so difficult – the very thing that you’re trying to resist is also the source of what you need in order to resist temptation.

Individual agency is certainly the emphasis of the book. The authors present a number of useful tips for improving individual willpower, such as:
  • setting up a “bright line” – clearly defined limit of what you can and can’t do 
  • precommitting – deciding ahead of time what you’re going to do and making it difficult or impossible to do otherwise
  • monitoring – whether it’s your diet or your wallet, being aware of what you’re doing
  • positive procrastination – such as telling yourself “I can eat that cake later”
  • exercising – working out your willpower ‘muscle’ in small ways such as correcting your posture
  • eating – if you find yourself having trouble making decisions or pushing through on a task, consider how long it’s been since you’ve fed your brain, and stick to foods that will sustain in the long-term
Yet the authors also discuss contextual factors that influence an individual’s ability to successfully exert self-control (e.g. being in an orderly room makes one more likely to think about long-term rewards than being in a messy room). Furthermore, it stands to reason that if an individual is in an environment that provides numerous sources of ego depletion, there will come a point where, barring Gandhi-like reserves of willpower, they will snap.

Imagine the following scenario: You get up to go to work. You pass four fast food restaurants on your way to the bus, which is late. You finally get to work and your boss berates you for your lateness. You suck it up, repressing an emotional outburst, because hey, it's the boss. You then spend the next several hours persisting through a series of uninteresting tasks. At some point, your reserves of willpower will be gone - you'll have spent them resisting, repressing, and persisting. If you didn't have a good breakfast, this will happen much sooner. It may result in you losing focus on your job, being short with a co-worker, or overindulging at lunch, but at some point, it will happen.

As community psychologists, it's up to us to make these connections and help build environments and social structures that make it easier for individuals to make the best choices for themselves and their communities.

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lets Talk About Sex...Education

Young people are having sex. Now, this may not come as news to most people in 2011, but many still ignore this concept when it comes to discussing it with youth. And who can blame them? It can be tough to talk about sex and sexuality with a teen or young adult. For some people it may feel dirty, wrong, uncomfortable, or unnecessary; I’m writing to state that in terms of community well-being, it is beyond necessary. So let’s talk “dirty” for a moment.

You might ask, “How does this relate to Community Psychology?” To which I say, “It does. Hold tight.”

Community Psychology as a discipline, from my perspective, is an amalgamation of several wonderful concepts and values. There are key focuses on social justice, empowerment and participation, respect for diversity, and—of particular relevance—individual and community wellness. So when I hear or read statistics that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is one the highest in the developed world (and is more than double the rate in Canada and other parts of Europe), I start to wonder what has gone wrong. Then I think, “How is this affecting our communities?”

To be clear, we are talking about the number of unintended pregnancies—which is also directly associated to the high number of school drop-out rates. When you consider the reason for high rates of unintended pregnancy, high school drop-outs, and the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), you need to consider access to education and resources. It is no coincidence that access to education and resources is directly related all of these things. It is even less of a coincidence that the higher the rate of pregnancy, drop-outs, STIs (including HIV) and drug use, the lower the income of the community.

In a 2009 study done in the New York City school systems, teens made up more than one in every four diagnosed cases of STIs. (It comes as no surprise that New York City also has a much greater number of unintended pregnancies than that of the entire nation). In 2004, a study found that over 75 percent of the New York City school systems did not meet even the most basic requirements for health education, let alone sexual health educationi. This deficit, without a doubt, is a community problem. If we are going to make individual and community health and wellness a priority, we must find ways to spread the knowledge of sexual health care, prevention and contraception to our communities.

If the numbers alone don’t paint a detailed enough picture, consider this fact:
In the past fifteen years, our government has spent over 1.5 billion federal dollarsii on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, all of which fail to teach the details of safe, preventive behavior. This abstinence-only policy has deprived students of information on the prevention of STIs, sexuality and sexual orientation, and options or access to contraception. Moreover, abstinence-only programs deny access to proper health care information for youth who have been sexually abused, have previously engaged in sexual behavior, or identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender).

People need information. Over the past few years, efforts to mandate universal sexual health education have become more of a priority in some of the nation’s major cities. New York is one of the latest to pass a policy for consistent, universal sex education curriculaiii. I question how and what we can do for the smaller cities, towns, and rural neighborhoods—not to mention the states that fight these policies. Within our communities, how can we spread information on sexual health education, prevention, and safety? For a start, we can talk to our legislators and push for policy changes, utilizing the examples of other cities as models for our own actions.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to have more discussion of sex, prevention, options, and resources. Parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, aunts and uncles, teachers, mentors: It is our obligation to spread the word about safety and good health. Ready…. GO!

Note: There are many online sites for suggested tips on how to talk to youth about sex, sexuality, and tough stuff alike. This is one.

Danielle Gemmell, M.A.
Planned Parenthood of New Jersey

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Community Psychology?

           Occupy Wall Street has gained everyone’s attention. But how about Occupy Community Psychology?
Readers, is this a fair question? I wonder, largely because I’m not (yet) seeing the connection between this major local then national and now global event and anything we ourselves are doing. Consider: one lonely note on our list-serv to date; nothing on our Facebook page. However, a blog post earlier this month. (“What happened in the 60’s”) opened the door to this discussion; so let’s walk on through it.
Community psychology still stirs my heart. But we have never been strong – we have hardly been visible – on issues of equity, on issues of class, on issues of institutional power, on issues of corporate (as vs. child, or domestic, or substance) abuse. All the more striking, since we are not the 1%, as far as I know.
           Certainly, the issues we do deal with are challenging; and surely, we have made genuine contributions both to knowledge and to human welfare. Nor did anyone ever tell us when we signed up that we should be leading the charge, or camping out on concrete.
Still, here’s the stated vision of our field, from the SCRA web site:
“Promoting social justice for all people by fostering . . . empowerment where there is oppression.”
And a stated SCRA goal:
“To influence the formation and institutionalization of economic and social policy consistent with community psychology principles and with the social justice values that are at the core of our discipline.”
Is SCRA – are we – living up to those ideals? Given that my campus this week was papered with “Occupy UMass/Lowell” flyers, it seems reasonable to ask how we could step up our own contribution.
As community practitioners, for example, we should know what it takes to generate citizen participation. And we should know something about principles of effective community organization, including effective social protest. Granted, we have much to learn from our more social-media-savvy colleagues and students. But the Occupy movement, and whatever succeeds it, should give us plenty of opportunity to advise, support, study, discuss, instruct, consult, and provide moral leadership – to be actors, and practitioners, not only spectators.
Just raising the issues here. What do you think, blog readers?

Bill Berkowitz, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts Lowell

Footnote: Just after the above was written, Brad Olson, a community psychologist and member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) posted a note on the SCRA list-serv, and also on the community psychology Facebook page, indicating PsySR's support of the Occupy movement. See the October 22-23 list-serv, and also
Worth a look.  ~~BB 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: The Question of Climate Change

On October 21st, 2011, an independent climate study called the Berkeley Earth Project reported new reliable evidence of climate change. In a press statement, Scientific Director Richard Muller is quoted as saying,

“Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and the U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.”

New evidence of climate change is powerful, especially to those who remain skeptical of the methods or outcomes of previous research on the topic. However there has existed a general consensus in the scientific community since the late 1980s that climate change is occurring. And scientific concern about climate change goes back even farther. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a booklet in 1958 that issued a warning about potential climate changes due to an increase in atmospheric CO2:

“Our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate. By the year 2000 we will have added 70 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. If it remained, it would have a marked warming effect on the earth’s climate, but most of it would probably be absorbed by the oceans. Conceivably, however, it could cause significant melting of the great icecaps and raise sea levels in time.”

In the past year, record floods have wrought devastation in Pakistan, Australia, Columbia, Brazil, the Balkans, and the United States. The strongest winds ever recorded on land occurred when Typhoon Megi hit Southeast Asia. South Pacific countries including Tuvalu, Tokelau are experiencing record drought; Tuvalu declared a state of emergency because the country was only days away from running out of water. Record monsoons in Thailand are flooding the country, including the capitol city Bangkok. Global heat waves have led to record-breaking temperatures, including 128˚F in Pakistan (and other countries in the 120’s), and caused transit shutdowns in the United States. In 2011, we have seen ten weather-related disasters costing billions of dollars.

Environmental lawyer Maxine Burkett, who is working with the international community to define the legal rights of countries who may lose their land to climate change says,

“A common question that I often hear is, ‘Did climate change cause these extraordinary events to happen? Like, the Pakistan floods, are they the result of climate change?’ But it’s crucial to ask the question in a different way. As renowned climate scientist Jim Hansen has said, ‘We should be asking ourselves if all these extreme events would be happening without vast amounts of carbon pollution in the atmosphere. The answer,’ he says, ‘Is almost certainly not.’”

These questions that continue to be asked (Is climate change real and caused by humans? Did climate change cause this disaster? Could this disaster have happened without carbon pollution?) are all important questions and must be continually addressed. In the psychology of climate change, we add other questions to the mix:

How do human psychology and behaviors contribute to climate change?

What psychological barriers prevent climate change action?

What psychological motivators contribute to climate change action?

What are the psychological impacts of disaster? And of long-term ambient threat of future disaster?

How does culture influence human psychology and behaviors surrounding climate change?

What are the ways in which people understand climate change? And how do these ways of knowing influence their psychology and behavior?

In the psychology of climate change, we must look beyond the changes to the land, weather, and sea. We must consider the human impacts, contributions, actions, and understandings of climate change. We must consider the ways in which people work together, or fail to do so, to mitigate, adapt to, or respond to climate changes. We must understand that when the planet changes, so too must we change. We must understand our strengths, limitations, and capacities to handle these changes. And finally, whether or not we believe climate change is caused by humans, we must recognize and address that it is a very human problem for the humans living on this planet.

Kati Corlew, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perinatal Periods of Risk Analyses: Using Data to Mobilize the Community and to Guide Prevention and Intervention Strategies

Susan M. Wolfe, Ph.D.
CEO, Susan Wolfe and Associates, LLC

         Nobody wants to read, hear, or think about babies dying. Yet, in the United States, the estimated infant mortality rate for 2011 is 6.06 per 1,000 births. In comparison, the infant mortality rate in Japan is 2.78, in the Czech Republic it is 3.73, and in the United Kingdom it is 4.62 per 1,000 babies born.1 These rates are not the same for everyone in the United States and there are large disparities in racial and ethnic groups, with rates for Black infants more than twice those of White infants.
          Perinatal Periods of Risk (PPOR) is an analytic framework that provides urban communities with valuable tools to investigate and develop prevention and intervention strategies to combat feto-infant mortality and other adverse birth outcomes.2 This framework uses a 2-phase approach. Phase 1 estimates the excess mortality for specific groups compared to a reference group with optimal outcomes. Phase 2 consists of a more in-depth community investigation of risk and preventive factors that contribute to the excess mortality rates. I recently had the opportunity to participate in Phase 1 of this process in one community and Phase 2 in another, and I am continuing participation in efforts to engage and mobilize the communities to address the identified disparities.
During Phase I analyses are performed to determine at which stage the rates are highest using the framework presented below. Each cell in this model represents a different age of infant and birth weight, and each is associated with different implications for prevention and/or intervention. For example, the "Maternal Care" cell consists of infants that weighed at least 1500 grams that died prior to birth. Intervention to reduce this rate would focus on prenatal care.

(24 + weeks)
(0-27 days)
Post Neonatal
(28 + days)
500-1499 grams


   Maternal Health/Prematurity
1500 + grams

Maternal Care

Newborn Care

Infant Health

         We recently presented the rates for each of these periods and birth weights at a community forum with approximately 300 social service, education, and health care professionals in the audience.3 The audience size was approximately the same number as the total number of potentially preventable infant deaths during a five year period. When the speaker asked everyone to stand and look around, and then pointed out that the number of infants that died unnecessarily was the same as the number of people standing in the room, the data were humanized. Each loss of life is not just a single infant, but a loss of potential talent and of potential significant contributions to society. The follow-up to this presentation is a scheduled meeting to engage community based organizations to begin developing community wide strategies to address these disparities.
         I attended another forum in a different community a few days later where results of Phase 2 analyses were presented, pointing out the specific maternal and social factors that predicted very low birth weight (which is associated with infant mortality). They included race (Black), low maternal education, inadequate prenatal care, previous preterm birth, previous infant death, and maternal chronic health conditions. When analyses were performed specifically for Black women, community economic disadvantage was also a predictor, although marginally.4 In this community, these data are being used to develop a Local Health Systems Action Plan specifically targeting infant mortality, low birth weight and very low birth weight. A community wide consortium is in place to facilitate implementation of this plan.
         These are examples of how data can be presented to communities to mobilize them and to guide their actions. Phase 1 data were useful in demonstrating that there is a problem, and specifically where that problem resides. Phase 2 provided the detailed information needed to show the community where to start to target prevention and interventions. The level of the data speaks not only to individual interventions, but suggests avenues for more systemic changes, such as improving access to prenatal care and developing strategies to reduce community economic disadvantage.

ADDENDUM: An hour after I wrote and submitted this blog I learned that the State of Texas issued a request for applications for communities to utilize PPOR data to develop or enhance local coalitions to implement evidence-based interventions to reduce the incidence of preterm birth and infant mortality.

1 Central Intelligence Agency (2011). The World Factbook. Accessed at: on October 15, 2011.
2 Sappenfield, W.M., Peck, M.G., Gilbert, C.S., Haynatzka, V.R., & Bryant, T. (2010). Perinatal Periods of Risk: Analytic Preparation and Phase 1 Analytic Methods for Investigating Feto-Infant Mortality. Maternal Child Health Journal, Published online 20 June 2010.
3 Bellinger, K., & Wolfe, S.M. (2011, September). The State of Infant Mortality. Presented at the Voices for Children of San Antonio 13th annual Congress on Children. San Antonio, TX
4 Caughy, M.O. (2011, September). Perinatal periods of risk in Dallas County: Phase II results and next steps. Presentation to the Dallas Healthy Start Infant Summit, Dallas, TX.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Second Round of Grant Winners Announced!

The SCRA Community Mini-Grant, sponsored for this first time this year, is a time-sensitive grant designed to be responsive to community needs.  

Our second two awardees were announced this year.  You can read about their projects below - we are very excited to sponsor them, and look forward to hearing about their work as it progresses.  

SCRA plans to offer ten grants, with an average award of $1,200.  All current SCRA members and their community collaborators are welcome to apply. For more information on this grant, please see or email SCRACommunityGrants [at]

 Grant Number 3:  SCRA Member - Annie Wright
Student-led Historical Preservation in Columbia, SC
       The Historic Columbia Foundation is partnering with the Richland County School District One to provide students a unique hands-on learning experience.  Students are driving a preservation project at the Mann-Simons historic house museum.  In the Spring of 2011, students in a Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) course at the Heyward Career and Technology Education center engaged in an in-depth and on-site study of the site.  Based on evidence they helped gather, these students generated CAD drawings of structures that formerly stood on the site.  They have now passed those drawings on to their colleagues in a Residential Construction course who have begun their own investigation of the site.  With funding from the SCRA Mini Grants award to purchase building supplies, and in collaboration with HCF historians and archaeologists,  these students will build "ghost structures" or frames of buildings that previously stood on the property.  The project aims to expose students to a counter-narrative about an empowered African American family from South Carolina and to actively engage them in the physical preservation of the site.  Additionally, the project aims to develop a model for school-community partnerships where historical preservation projects can catalyze community engagement and social change around persistent racial divides.

Grant Number 4:  SCRA Member - Dawn Henderson
A Mixed Methods Project of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA’s Boomerang Program: From theory to evaluation
         The aim of this project is to conduct a collaborative evaluation to assess the relationship between youth participation in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA’s Alternative to Suspension Boomerang Program, resilience and connectedness, and ways in which these services affect relationships at the parent and teacher level (family and school level).  Over the past year, the researcher has met with Boomerang staff to identify their evaluation and program needs, target population, description of program, and identify relevant stakeholders and outcomes. Boomerang staff are actively engaged throughout each stage of the project, which includes the formation of a program theory, evaluation plan, and assisting in data collection. Findings from the project has implications not just for Boomerang but also to glean how their particular services translate into the relationships that students have beyond the context of the program and into the school and family setting. Thus, possibly shedding light on the behavior of youth when leaving the Boomerang Program and ways in which these settings factor in on sustaining intervention efforts. Incentives for program participants, teachers and parents and data analysis are funded through the generous support from the SCRA Community Mini-Grant.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What happened in the 60's: Community psychology, social policy, and the 99%

Quick - what do South Korea, Finland, Canada, and Japan all have in common?

(a)    They all outrank the U.S. in reading, math, and science
(b)    Their citizens have higher life expectancies than those in the U.S.
(c)    Compared to the U.S., they have far greater levels of income equality
(d)    All of the above

 In case you haven’t guessed it, the answer is included in the body of this blog post. 

Until very recently, it seemed that income inequality was the pink elephant in the proverbial room of American discourse. Sure, the lifestyles of the super-rich routinely littered our media landscape. But the expectation was that those watching would envy them, perhaps even resent them a little bit, but most of all want to be them. Viewers were expected to want their huge houses, multiple cars, and overpriced wardrobes, not to mention their lavish super sweet 16s and platinum weddings. Imagine if one of these shows or celebrity profiles was followed by a frank conversation about the state of income inequality in the U.S. It would never happen.

This is why I have been so excited to see the growth of Occupy Wall St, and its rapid spread throughout the country and even beyond its borders. Despite critiques about the movement not having a clear message, there’s been one phrase that’s captured the public imagination – “We are the 99%.” It’s not only the phrase, but the many honest stories  by ordinary Americans written on pieces of paper or cardboard, that have resonated with people. The stories are compelling, and the slogan is clear – ordinary Americans are tired of seeing politics and media controlled by the richest 1%. The movement has grown to the degree that it cannot be ignored, even by the mainstream media, or by politicians who would rather see it just go away.

Income inequality (and wealth inequality, which is different but correlated) is not just about who gets jobs and material goods. Study after study has shown that low socioeconomic status negatively affects such essentials as academic performance and health and that the negative effects of individual low SES can be compounded by additional community level effects of living in a low SES neighborhood. In a conversation about multilevel modeling, one education researcher mentioned that his attempts to study the negative impact of low SES on academic performance in more egalitarian European countries didn’t work because the disparate income levels he wanted to use as predictors simply couldn't be found.

While my pop quiz at the beginning of this post is based on cursory glances at data on academic performancelife expectancy, and income inequality, (btw, the answer is "d") there are reasons to believe that there can be systematic negative effects of income inequality on a national level. This means that, as opposed to the trickle-down theory that states that economic gain for those on the highest rungs of the economic ladder leads to better lives for those on the lower rungs, there may be more of a drag-down effect happening in which greater income inequality leads to a less educated, unhealthier, and altogether weaker nation.

One quote about the Occupy Wall St movement that has made its way through social media may bring a smile to some of the founders of community psychology - which, like many great things, sprung forth in the 1960’s. Peter King, a conservative politician in New York, warned that the conversations resulting from the Occupy Wall Street movement can, like the protests of the 1960’s, end up affecting social policy. And to that I say, yes we can.

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: An Uncertain Future

Though the fact of climate change has not been under scientific debate for decades, the uncertainty of climate change remains.  How can this be?  How can fact exist so easily with uncertainty?  “It simply can’t” is the answer given by politicians, political pundits, and others who seek to cast doubt on climate sciences.  Especially after the so-called “Climategate” in which climate scientists’ emails were leaked to the public and then distorted to show wrong-doing where none existed, the public may be more confused than ever about how fact and uncertainty can coexist.
In scientific circles, “uncertainty” means something different than it does to the rest of us.  If I say I am uncertain if I’ll go to the store today, it means I may or may not go.  When a climate scientist says the sea will rise 0.5 to 1.0 meters in the next 50 to 100 years, it means the sea level is going to rise.  The uncertainty is how much it will rise, when exactly it will reach which levels, and where exactly it will rise most (remember the sea is not rising evenly around the world).  Scientists are sure about climate change; the questions of uncertainty are the specifics of climate change – how bad will it be in which year, in which place, given a vast array of possible circumstances?
The computer models that calculate climate projections are getting better every year, though each has different strengths and weaknesses, and all of them take a very long time and a lot of processor power to generate.  Reports like the IPCC compile multiple models to generate a range of projections – somewhere between the best-case and worst-case scenarios.  What are some factors they just can’t predict even with these computer models?  Most important are the human factors – what are we as a species going to do to address climate change?  Will we cut all emissions?  Will we do nothing?  Will we increase our CO2 pollution?
Scientists are used to dealing with uncertainty.  No single study ever “proves” anything; it only points to an answer.  When hundreds or thousands of studies point to the same answer, scientists can feel pretty comfortable saying “this is probably the case.”  They keep that word “probably” because new theories, new technology, or new scientists may discover something that changes everything.  Science is never “proof.”  At best, it is “our best understanding of the way things are.”  Scientists are rarely comfortable giving a definitive answer.  They are comfortable with “best understandings” because there is always uncertainty.
But people are often not so good with uncertainty.  Even scientists in their daily non-work-related lives will crave stability.  Part of human psychology is that we expect our lives to be today more or less like they were yesterday.  We expect the people we know to have stable personalities.  We feel great stress when our lives change abruptlyConservation of Resources theory explains that people work hard to obtain and maintain those things we value most.  When the stability of our resources is threatened (much less interrupted), people experience stress that can even become severe enough to affect our health.
             It is no wonder that people want to have exact answers about what is going to happen with climate change.  And it is no wonder that those who have an anti-climate-sciences agenda are able to exploit our very real need for answers when they claim scientists don’t really know anything or are just making it all up.  But with nearly 7 billion people on the planet, almost 200 countries, and certainly more than one opinion on what to do about climate change, it is no wonder that there is so much uncertainty about what the future holds.

Kati Corlew, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Friday, September 16, 2011

First Round of Grant Winners Announced!

The SCRA Community Mini-Grant, sponsored for this first time this year, is a time-sensitive grant designed to be responsive to community needs.  

Our first two awardees were announced this year.  You can read about their projects below - we are very excited to sponsor them, and look forward to hearing about their work as it progresses.  

SCRA plans to offer ten grants, with an average award of $1,200.  All current SCRA members and their community collaborators are welcome to apply. For more information on this grant, please see or email SCRACommunityGrants [at] 

"Sense of Place and Sense of Community in Tuvalu, a Country Being Threatened by Sea Level Rise"
SCRA Member/Applicant: Laura Kati Corlew
This study seeks to understand the cultural impacts of climate change in Tuvalu, a low-lying island nation in the South Pacific.  Tuvalu is projected to become uninhabitable in the next 50-100 years if sweeping climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are not put into place.  As a developing nation, Tuvalu is not responsible for climate change, and yet her indigenous population is facing grave consequences.  Using Photovoice methodology, this study will delve into the connections between land, community, culture, and well-being within the context of the climate change threat.  Participants will lead the research with their photographs; results will combine images with spoken words.  The SCRA Community Mini Grant will fund research equipment (cameras, printer, etc.), food for the focus groups, and the dissemination of research outcomes in Tuvalu.  Multiple Tuvalu leaders have noted to me that all too often researchers come to Tuvalu and take knowledge but leave nothing behind.  This grant will fund the development, printing, and shipping of results books to Tuvalu for cost-free dissemination to participants and key stakeholder agencies that work with climate change and/or community well-being.

Support for Veterans in Chicago
SCRA Member/Applicant: Geraldine Palmer
North Side Housing and Supportive Services in partnership with VetNet provides Benefits Check-Up project. The project will target United States veterans, with a focus on combat veterans and provide them with three peer support specialists (veterans as well) who will spend a day meeting with veterans and filling out online benefits applications to help them gain access to the benefits they are entitled to and deserve. The peer support specialists will also provide referrals to housing, health and mental health services and other resources, as well as encouragement. The project is expected to help mitigate the veteran's stress of returning to community life and help expedite the process of readjustment. The project will take place on Veterans Day, November 11, 2011. The SCRA grant will support VetNet key staff on the project, rental costs for space, marketing and food supplies.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No Future Without Forgiveness: Community Psychology and Restorative Justice

“Americans understand justice.” This was the response Gov. Rick Perry gave as to why the audience at last night’s GOP debate erupted in applause when it was pointed out that he’d order more executions than “any other governor in modern times.” Asked whether he ever had trouble sleeping at night wondering if he had been responsible for the death of an innocent person, he replied no, describing capital punishment as “ultimate justice” for horrendous crimes.

Does Rick Perry understand justice? If justice is to be described as state-enforced punishment for wrongdoing, then yes, he does, and so does his audience. However, this version of justice – retributive justice – is not the only definition that exists. When it comes to “heinous crimes” it’s natural to want to see the party responsible suffer for their wrongdoing. I would be lying if I claimed not to rejoice at news of the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year. But on the day of the September 11th attacks, I cried not only for the deaths that occurred on that day, but also for the countless deaths that I knew would result from our attempts to seek out “justice” for this act.

Ten years later, over $3 trillion dollars has been spent and countless lives have been lost as we’ve seen ourselves mired in some of the longest wars in US history. Some claim that we are safer now, while others argue that we’ve played into the hands of our attackers. Regardless of where one stands, it’s difficult to find someone who believes that somehow through all of this war, we’ve achieved “justice.”

When it comes to some of the most horrid crimes - rape, murder, acts of systematic oppression– there is little solace to be gained from purely retributive approaches. An alternative to this form of justice exists. Restorative justice frames criminal acts not as offenses against the state that require punishment, but as offenses against individuals and communities that necessitate healing. Restorative justice is not just a feel-good concept - it has been applied to some of the most challenging crimes. Survivors of rape and domestic violence often find the criminal justice system frustrating and dissatisfying, and restorative justice approaches may be superior in addressing issues of gender-based violence. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, designed to uncover the truth about apartheid in South Africa, has been held up as a model of restorative justice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a book about his experience chairing the commission, titled “No Future Without Forgiveness." While the commission came under heavy criticism for its policy of offering amnesty to those who participated, and even Tutu has said elsewhere that there must be greater economic equality in South Africa in order for it to achieve peace, the TRC was historic in its scope and its application of the restorative justice framework.

Restorative justice is not only applicable to acts of individual or systematic violence. It is also a powerful potential tool for conflict resolution and community healing. A pair of events centered on Restorative Circles to be held in Illinois in October is being sponsored by PsySR (Psychologists for Social Responsibility). As community psychology practitioners, we’re interested in helping to build healthier communities, and restorative justice provides a useful framework for addressing challenging problems in a manner that’s consistent with our values. I can’t help but think that beats cheering for death.

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: “Intention, Everyone!”

Despite what some conspiracy theorists may believe (or what some environmentalists may mutter to themselves when feeling frustrated), anthropogenic climate change is not happening by plan. There is no grand design or league of evil geniuses who have set in motion a nefarious plot to slowly raise the earth’s temperature over a few centuries. Climate change isn’t something we caused on purpose; it is something that started happening while we were busy focusing on other things.
The fact is, climate change was an easy thing to create once we kick-started the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning, it would have seemed impossible that a world so big could ever reach the limits of what shocks and pollution it could absorb. Our world is much smaller now in this age of the internet, cellphones, and ubiquitous airline travel. And our planet seems much smaller now in the age of garbage landslides , groundwater contamination, deforestation, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We hit our limits while we were looking the other way.
This is one reason that stopping climate change poses such an enormous psychological challenge. It happened without our intent—a grand series of pollution coincidences on our road to development and modernization. How could something so inadvertent require such an extraordinary amount of money, effort, and international coordination to stop? It is something we cannot comfortably comprehend. But successfully addressing climate change requires sustained intent and huge changes to the way we have come to behave as a species.
Is everyone willing and able to commit?
Social scientists have recently been studying the increasing polarization and politicization of climate change in the US. In general, they have been finding that liberals and Democrats are more willing to believe in climate change sciences, and are more willing to support efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The question then becomes, why are conservatives and Republicans less willing to believe in climate change sciences and less willing to support mitigation and adaptation? The answer has a great deal to do with human psychology. People are much more willing to believe in ideas that fit easily into our current worldview. Certain values commonly associated with the Republican party (free market, deregulation of industry, and smaller government) are diametrically opposed to the expensive, restrictive, and highly coordinated efforts needed to address climate change.
It is difficult for people to accept changes that fundamentally go against what they believe, and it is difficult for people to make 180 degree changes in their behaviors (skeptical readers, I ask you to convert to another religion today, and to think about all of the New Year’s Resolutions you’ve made and broken). People have fair success with small, non-threatening changes, but sweeping and belief-challenging actions are difficult to sustain.
In Community Psychology, we assume that people do not exist in a bubble but that they influence, and are influenced by, their settings. We look at the many contextual issues that contribute to the status quo, and then look for “levers of change” – key points that, if changed, will change everything. For climate change, we must seek levers of change for our behaviors and our intentions. How do we change human civilization to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate? And how do we change ourselves so that our sustainability intentions are, well, sustained?
One thing is sure: no intergovernmental panels were convened to figure out how to cause climate change. But in order to address it, we need massive coordination of action and intent.

Kati Corlew, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Hospital Community Benefit Requirements: Who Will They Benefit?

I was recently invited to present at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) meeting in Atlanta regarding new requirements in the recently passed Affordable Health Care Act and also in new IRS regulations concerning Hospital Community Benefits.
Yes, the IRS is regulating hospital community benefits!
Sounds boring? Think again. This is a real opportunity for communities to partner with local hospitals on key community issues.
What are Community Benefits? Non profit hospitals earn their non-profit status by demonstrating that they have met community health needs that have been determined by a community health needs assessment. This can be a meaningful community collaboration process or it can be window dressing. So, new regulations by HHS and the IRS are trying to ensure that the process has meaning.
A number of years back I was involved in a process of voluntary community benefit guidelines for hospitals and HMOs being piloted by then Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger. Through the trials and tribulations of that process we all learned many lessons that can be brought to bear on this present effort. My role, as the founder of  Healthy Communities Massachusetts, in this earlier process was to organize the community side of the equation – local groups that mobilized to hold their community hospitals accountable.
What we discovered was that a few hospitals took the community benefits process seriously and did a great job of partnering with their local communities and developing effective, responsive and relevant community programs. However, most hospitals tried to do the minimum. Their Community Benefits Committees did not represent those most affected by the issues from the grassroots in their community but rather represented the “usual suspects” like local community non-profits, many of whom already held contracts with the hospital.
It was a major effort just to get many of the hospitals to submit their annual reports that described their required community assessments and their community benefit activities in the community. Most fascinating was that when we looked at the reports in many cases we saw almost no correlation between the community assessments and what the hospitals actually did. Their community needs assessment process may have determined that their community need was X and yet they provided Y because Y was more in tune with their mission and plan. Clearly this voluntary process needed more bite to be effective.
So fast forward to 2011, and we see potentially much the same scenario. At this excellent conference, we heard of outstanding examples of hospitals doing a great job of community benefits. I think of the work of Dory Escobar at St Joseph’s Health System in Sonoma County California. Dory is the Director of Healthy Communities and is a community organizer and her work represents those values. Her organizational framework has three areas: Advocacy Initiatives, Healthy Communities Programs and Community Health Programs. (See
We also heard of valuable tools from Julie Willems Van Dijk (U.Wisconsin) like a county system of health rankings. The Rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play. Building on the work of America’s Health Rankings the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute has used this model to rank the health of Wisconsin counties every year since 2003. Rankings are now available for all counties in the country
Check it out for your county.
When I had my ten minute chance to present -( ) -
I urged hospitals to engage in true collaboration with those most affected by the issue in the community – with true collaboration described as relationships where we enhance the capacity of each other. I also suggested that community engagement go beyond the needs assessment stage of the process. Rather community partners need to share decision making throughout the community benefit process including setting priorities, implementation, and evaluation. I used the work of the Center for Health Equity and Social Justice at the Boston Public Health Commission as a model of this approach (see
So what happens from here on out?
These new regulations are an occasion for all of us to engage with our local hospitals. We must ask what they will be doing to meet these new requirements and tell them how we would like to partner with them in the process of creating their community needs assessment and then continue to work with them on the implementation of their community benefit programs that will meet the identified needs.
My good colleagues at the Community Tool Box ( at the University of Kansas have been contracted by the CDC to develop “Recommended Practices for Enhancing Community Health Improvement”. This will be a very comprehensive tool kit based on the wonderful resources of the Community Tool Box for the community needs assessment process.  I will try to keep you informed as to when these resources will go public.
Tom Wolff

Friday, August 12, 2011

Building Community and Transforming Our Helping Systems

The time has come for us to rethink and transform the health and human services system in this country. These services cover a vast array of organizations providing a very broad range of services and consume large parts of federal, state and local budgets. The services are often critical for the consumers but the core premises on which the system is based and the system of delivery itself is highly dysfunctional.
The delivery system is characterized by:
1)      A focus on individuals not communities and ignores the environment in which the individual lives
2)      Focuses on the deficits of the individual and the community not their strengths and assets
3)      Services remain targeted at crises and remedial services ignoring how prevention could prevent the problem from occurring in the first place by catching issues upstream
4)      Our systems fail to respond to the diversity of our communities much less address issues of structural oppression, racism etc.
5)      Our helping systems excessively rely on professionals and fail to acknowledge and engage the natural helping systems of families and neighborhoods. Increasingly our helping systems have become detached from the communities they serve.
6)       Our helping system fails to engage those most affected by the issue as equal partners in planning, delivering and evaluating their interventions.
7)      As a system the health and human services in any given community tends to be: competitive rather than collaborative; fragmented so that individuals are treated for distinct problems rather than as whole beings; efforts are duplicated due to lack of information rather than coordinated
8)      Finally the helping system and many of those working in the system have lost their spiritual purpose. They may have chosen their fields with hopes of addressing the common good and now end up counting billable hours.

These system dysfunctions are discussed at greater length in my book The Power of Collaborative Solutions
I have been preaching these dysfunctions and their solutions for decades so it was  a delight to find a fellow traveler and another community psychologist on this campaign in Isaac Prilleltensky , the Dean of  the School of Education at the University of Miami.
Isaac contrasts systems that he describes as SPEC vs DRAIN with SPEC systems standing for systems based on  Strength, Prevention, Empowering and Community. While DRAIN stands for Deficit, Reactive, Arrogant, Individual.
More details on Isaac's system are available at their web site:
Many of us have some stories of individual systems, agencies or interventions that have been able to move from SPEC vs DRAIN (see community stories in my book, or previous issues of my Collaborative Solutions Newsletters ). These stories need more public airing.
However, the urgent questions now facing all of us are how do we transform our dysfunctional helping system to a strength based system that addresses the system shortcomings noted above and moves in new positive directions.
The present fiscal crisis is leading to dramatic cuts of funding to this helping sector but as noted in my last newsletter (Thriving and Surviving in Hard Times) this is not leading to system transformation but rather retrenchment to a more dysfunctional system. We are cutting prevention and keeping remediation, cutting community wide healthy community programs and keeping services for individuals, etc.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to convert our dysfunctional helping systems to ones that are focused on communities, prevention, strengths, our community's diversity, build on community helping systems, bring those most affected by the issues to the table as equal partners, operate collaboratively, and engage our spirituality as the compass for social change. What are your ideas for transformation of our nation's health and human service systems?

By Tom Wolff

This post first appeared at:
July 22, 2011:
August 8, 2011: