Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Mary Katherine O'Connor


Community organizing as an area of social work practice has historic roots in challenging inequality, building capacity, and meeting the needs of local peoples through taking collective action. While the literature of community organizing is rich in conceptual frameworks, practice approaches, and case studies, it lacks the level of formal theory that exists in clinical social work. Formal practice theories provide social workers with evidence informed guidance about “what to do”, “how to do it”, and “what to expect”; however, social workers engaging in community organizing have little formal practice theory. The results of this study build the beginning foundation for a direct practice theory of community organizing that can be utilized by social workers engaged in community organizing to better inform practice. In this study, I used Delphi methodology to build formal practice theory by exploring the perspectives of nine community-organizing experts with an average of nearly 30 years of experience from the union organizing and civil rights organizing traditions. Through three waves of data collection, I learned that community organizing is a dialectical process that includes three distinct stages: community building, plan, and mobilize. These distinct stages do not operate solely in a linear or cyclical fashion, but work dynamically with the ever changing social environment to achieve social change. My findings support the idea that community organizing is dependent upon the participation and inclusion of local peoples. While practitioners have distinct roles in organizing efforts, community members determine many aspects of what and how the organizing process unfolds. My findings provide the beginning foundation for a direct social work practice theory of community organizing that can be utilized to guide professional practice as well as provide a basis for further research. It is through further research that community organizing can be better understood and utilized to create evidence informed interventions that are both respectful and inclusive of community members as well as empirical and evidence informed.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

November 2012

Included in

Social Work Commons