Volume 48 Number 1
Winter 2015

Public Policy

Edited by Melissa Strompolis (

The first section of the policy column was written by two former SCRA Policy Committee practicum students, Taylor Bishop Scott and J’Vonnah Maryman.  Although both remain active on the policy committee, their work as practicum students involved research on the integration of social media and policy and advocacy activities.  The column describes the evolution of social media and advocacy, both within and outside of SCRA, and how social media can be used to increase student competencies in community psychology.  In the second section, Jean Hill and Cynthia Cominsky briefly describe a call-to-action regarding the FAMILY Act that was approved by SCRA and APA. Finally, the policy column closes with an update from Venoncia Bate on the community health workers rapid response that was endorsed by the policy and executive committee.

Leveraging Social Media Tools for Advocacy

Written by Taylor Bishop Scott (, The University of North Carolina-Charlotte and J’Vonnah Maryman (, Wichita State University

 An increasingly digital world is evolving the way that humans interact and carry out activities previously achieved offline. This is true of how individuals connect with peers, colleagues, and others with similar interests, which makes social media highly relevant to modern communication, information exchange, discussions about issues, and advocacy for system change. In recent years, highly publicized advocacy movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring critically hinged on the communication capacity available through interactive digital tools (Satariano & Wong, 2012), also referred to as social media (Fine, 2006).

Those movements are extreme examples of the way in which social media has evolved advocacy efforts, but online advocacy can also occur through a number of more common activities. For instance, visiting a website can show support for a cause; widespread sharing of information about a cause can increase public awareness; and signing an electronic petition can demonstrate support for policy change to a public official. Despite its relevance to modern day communication, information sharing and collaboration, many community practitioners may be uncertain about integrating social media tools into their work (Brunson & Valentine, 2010).

Limited integration of social media in communication efforts is one of the overarching reasons that the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) hired a consultant, Susan Tenby. Her hire was timed to coincide with the development of the new website and the larger effort to increase visibility of community psychology and SCRA. Susan will help SCRA effectively use digital tools for a) communicating with members, b) increasing visibility of community psychology as a profession, and c) enhancing members’ use of social media in practice. Susan has since conducted two webinars that have introduced social media concepts and described ways to build an online community to promote social change. Members who would like to contribute to enhancing communication and strategic use of digital tools are encouraged to join the Website and Social Media Committee by contacting Jean Hill at

SCRA’s emerging emphasis on digital communication tools aligns with the evolution of social interaction and communication. Though the number of tools and fast, free-flowing information and communication systems can be overwhelming for social media novices, the emergence of these tools is only a beginning toward a shift in the way ordinary goals are achieved. For instance, organizing connections with a network of supporters to address problems has always been an asset to social change; and even though connections can be made without technology, novel communication tools improve the efficiency and manageability of connecting with others across the globe (Fine, 2006; Kanter & Paine, 2012). As Alison Fine says in Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age (2006), “The digital world will move ahead at lightning speed. We cannot ignore it… activists must energetically engage in this new world to ensure that we are using the new tools and systems to [the] best advantage for social change” (p. 131).

Social media increases the likelihood that people outside an individual or organization’s social network will find and join the cause by enabling the formation of digital networks free from constraints of geography, time, and disability (Satariano & Wong, 2012). A larger network of advocates considerably increases the number of “voices” that enhance public awareness about an issue (Guo & Saxton, 2014). Further, information about issues and ideas are shared at a faster pace through online networks compared to traditional organizing strategies (Satariano & Wong, 2012).

While social media may be increasingly essential to modern communication efforts, it is merely one tool that can be used to complement an advocacy campaign; the use of digital tools is no substitute for traditional advocacy efforts and is not recommended for use in isolation (Fine, 2006; Kanter & Paine, 2012; Satariano & Wong, 2012). Rather, these tools should be seen as mechanisms for amplifying traditional organizing strategies (Satariano & Wong, 2012). Social media is also not a panacea for an advocacy effort because social change does not happen without engagement and action among a network of collaborating activists (Fine, 2006). Online engagement is essential for information dissemination, attracting new activists and attention to the cause, and is expected to contribute to meaningful action (e.g., activists’ contact with legislators or participation in events; Fine, 2006).

A prominent goal of online advocacy efforts is to increase online participation and engagement, which has been found to correlate with offline advocacy activities (Conroy, Feezell, & Guerrero, 2012). That said, it is notoriously difficult to engage more than a small percentage of an online audience (Lampe et al., 2011). Strategies for overcoming barriers to effectively engaging an online audience are beyond the scope of this column; however, one essential strategy for community psychologists to keep in mind is the utility of evaluative data that can be used to monitor successes and inform improvements. Online metrics for engagement (e.g., clicks, page views, posts, re-tweets) are easily collected with an array of social media tools. Rather than focusing on perfecting a campaign strategy prior to commencement, it is most important that activists learn what is effective for their community by testing strategies through practice and understanding what appeals most to their constituents (Kanter & Paine, 2012).

In conclusion, social media has revolutionized many ordinary processes of interaction. Community psychologists seeking to advocate for social and system change may be well served by integrating digital innovations into their efforts. A need for enhancing the integration of social media and web-based venues was stated in a previous issue of The Community Psychologist by former SCRA President, Fabricio Balcazar (2014). Coincidentally, this statement appeared in the same issue that published the results of a survey that asked students about 18 specific competencies:  the degree to which students desired training for a competency (i.e., preferred competencies) and the degree to which they expected actual training for that competency (i.e., actual competencies). Discrepancies between preferred and actual competencies were of primary interest, as these results can inform improvements to training programs in community psychology (Brown et al., 2014).

Integration of social media tools may be one avenue for reducing these discrepancies, specifically regarding community and social change competencies. Students reported large discrepancies for community organizing and advocacy, collaboration and coalition development, community development, and building public awareness about community issues and needs (Brown et al., 2014). We believe that these skills could be enhanced by encouraging student involvement in online campaigns for system change; as such efforts often seek to increase awareness about social issues and build communities that are united by common goals that promote social change.


Balcazar, F. E. (2014). From the president. The Community Psychologist, 47(1), 1-2.

Brown, K. K., Cardazone, G., Glantsman, O., Johnson-Hakim, S., & Lemke, M. (2014). Examining the guiding competencies in community psychology practice from students’ perspectives. The Community Psychologist, 47(1), 3-9.

Brunson, L. & Valentine, D. (2010). Using online tools to connect, collaborate and practice. The Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 1(2), 1-8.

Conroy, M. Feezell, J. T., & Guerrero, M. (2012). Facebook and political engagement: A study of online political group membership and offline political engagement. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 1535-1546.

Fine, A. (2006). Momentum: Igniting social change in the connected age. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kanter, B., & Paine, K. D. (2012). Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Guo, C. & Saxton, G. D. (2014). Tweeting social change:  How social media are changing nonprofit advocacy. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43, 57-79 doi: 10.1177/0899764012471585

Lampe, C., LaRose, R., Steinfield, C., & DeMaagd, K. (2011). Inherent barriers to the use of social media for public policy informatics. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 16(1), 2-17.

Satariano, N. B. & Wong, A. (2012). Creating an online strategy to enhance effective community building and organizing. In M. Minkler (Ed.), Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare (pp. 269-287). New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press.

Call-to-Action: The Family Medical Leave Insurance Act

Written by Jean Hill ( Cynthia Cominsky ( on behalf of the SCRA Public Policy Committee

The United States is one of only four countries recently surveyed by the United Nations that does not ensure access to some sort of paid maternity leave. While the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ensures that workers would not lose their jobs if they took time off due to the birth of a child or a family medical emergency, it does nothing to help provide an income during that time.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act of 2013 (FAMILY Act) would allow the United States to join the majority of the rest of the world by establishing a national family and medical leave insurance program. Introduced by Senator Kristen Gillibrand in the Senate and Congresswoman Rose DeLauro in the House, the Family Act ensures that employees can earn a portion of their wages (66% up to a capped amount) for up to 60 workdays, or 12 workweeks in a year. Employees can use the leave for situations such as pregnancy or childbirth; caring for a new child; or dealing with their own or a family member's serious health issue.

The insurance would be paid for by small payroll contributions paid by both employees and employers of two cents per $10 in wages (about $1.50 per week for a typical worker). The payroll contributions would go to a self-sustaining fund, which would be administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration. Fund contributions would cover both benefits and administrative costs, resulting in a self-supporting program.

SCRA has joined over 450 organizations, including APA and SPSSI, in expressing its support for this legislation. We would like to ask that you do the same as individuals. You can contact your legislators through this link via the APA:
This legislation (S. 1810<>/H.R. 3712<>) is still in its early stages. It has not yet been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, or been sent to any congressional committee. It is going to require sustained advocacy in order to have this legislation adopted. For this reason we encourage you to use a service such as in order to remain informed about the status of the legislation (
Thank you!

Update on Rapid Response in Support of Community Health Worker Illinois House Bill 5412

Written by Venoncia Bate (, National Louis University

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are non-clinical professionals who work in their communities to empower residents by increasing health literacy, promoting better access to healthcare and social services and serving as cultural liaisons between community and institutional stakeholders. CHWs can be adept social change agents broadly improving the health of their communities. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act there are increased occupational opportunities for CHWs, as well an impetus for healthcare systems to provide community-based, multi-sectorial solutions to achieve population health management leading to better patient health outcomes. HB5412 was intended to support the work of CHWs by providing guidance and structure to the occupation in the state of Illinois 

House Bill 5412 accepts the APHA CHW definition and acknowledges that a CHW scope of practice and core competencies are needed to bring about expanded health in diverse communities, reduce health disparities and empower CHWs as effective members of interdisciplinary health teams. It also calls for an Illinois Community Health Worker Advisory Board to be established by the state’s Director of Public Health, who shall appoint its board members. The board will advise the department of public health, the governor and general assembly on matters impacting the CHW workforce, including but not limited to CHW training and certification. HB5412 was first filed with the state clerk by Rep. Robyn Gabel on 11/2/2014 and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on 7/31/2014. 

A rapid response proposal to support the passage of HB5412 was submitted to SCRA and approved in April 2014. It was imperative that HB5412 have broad-based, multi-sectorial backing. To this end SCRA’s endorsement of HB5412 via the rapid response proposal added another important voice to the chorus of interdisciplinary allies. The heightened awareness of and excitement about the role of CHWs ushered in by the bill-to-law process in Illinois, created an atmosphere of recognition and accolade for CHWs including the coordinator of the Chicago CHW Network, Leticia Boughton, being awarded two prominent awards in 2014 (the 1st Sen Durbin CHW Award and the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group’s Policy Award), acceptance of a proposal by Baté-Ambrus & Boughton on CHW advocacy in Illinois and Wisconsin at APHA’s annual meeting (Nov. 2014) and acceptance Baté-Ambrus’ abstract for a special CHW issue of the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management in 2015.   

To join the SCRA Policy Committee, inquire about the SCRA Policy Practicum, or add your name to the call-to-action listserv, please email Melissa Strompolis at

You must be logged in to leave a reply. Login »

You must be logged in to the website in order to leave a comment.