CTU Understanding the Target Population Discussion

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Understanding the Target Population

Consider the “Framework for Understanding the Target Population” from Chapter 3 of your Social Work Macro Practice text, pages 85–86. Select a population that has been faced with issues of discrimination and oppression. Reflect on what approach you, as a human services leader, should take in understanding and serving this population and promoting community empowerment, addressing all four tasks outlined in the framework.


In this chapter, we framed engagement with diverse and different population groups within an overview of advancing human rights and social and economic justice. A framework for engaging with diverse populations was presented. The first task was to start where the population is and involves self-reflective practice. Although cultural competence is extensively cited as a goal, criticism of this concept is that it assumes one can become competent in understanding another culture. Cultural humility makes a somewhat different assumption: It involves a continual commitment to co-learning and self-reflection, and recognizes the power imbalances in interactions between helping professionals and consumers. Throughout this chapter, we emphasized the importance of listening to population group members and recognizing that there will be different perspectives.

Task 2 focused on the impact of difference, discrimination, and oppression. Highlighted were definitions of systems of oppression, including ableism, ageism, classism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism and trans oppression, racism, and sexism. Intersectionality was introduced, along with themes of critical race theory and recognition of the reification of whiteness.

Task 3 focused on using the professional knowledge base to gather information on the population, noting that it is important to fully draw from insider perspectives as well as the theories and studies that inform understandings of the population group with which one is working. What is known about growth and development as well as social relationships and structures was explored as a beginning step in fully accessing the professional knowledge base.

Task 4 elaborated on methods that can be used to engage small and large groups in change episodes. Understanding group development and stages of growth was emphasized, given the fact that macro practice involves an array of task-oriented groups in the change process.

Engaging the population group is a parallel process to problem identification, the subject of Chapter 4. Together, Chapters 3 and 4 provide change agents with sets of interrelated activities that will be helpful in formulating a problem definition. In conjunction with persons who have experienced the problem, and with their full and ongoing participation, the tasks and activities in these two chapters will assist the change agent and others in beginning to move toward an episode of change.

Appendix: Framework for Understanding the Target Population

Task 1: Start Where the Population Is

Develop Cultural Humility

What experiences has the social worker had with members of this population group?

What self-identities and attitudes does the social worker bring to this situation?

What are the power imbalances faced by this population group?

Listen to Different Perspectives from Population Members

Identify key informants from the population of interest.

Include diverse voices and perspectives in articulating the issues faced by this population.

Task 2: Assess the Impact of Difference, Discrimination, and Oppression

Explore the Discriminatory and Oppressive Issues Faced by This Population

What stereotypes or generalizations confront this population group?

How has this population group been discriminated against or oppressed?

Do members of the population group feel marginalized, and, if so, why?

Assess Implications of Intersectionality

What are the dimensions of intersectionality within this population?

What issues of power, privilege, discrimination, and oppression are identified by members of this population?

What frameworks are useful in understanding population dynamics?

Task 3: Search the Professional Knowledge Base on the Target Population

Identity Concepts and Issues Related to Growth and Development

What sources of the professional knowledge base are available on this population group?

What theoretical frameworks are available that will help in understanding the target population?

What factors or characteristics gleaned from the knowledge base on this population will be helpful in understanding the target population?

Assess Social Relationships and Structures

What structural and environmental forces are affecting this population group?

What theoretical frameworks are available that will help in understanding the interactions between members of the population and the larger social environment?

Task 4: Develop Strategies for Authentic Engagement

Create Opportunities for Participation

Who has been involved in identifying the need for change?

What principles can be used to guide a meanginful engagement process?

What methods can be used to engage diverse population groups?

Work with Groups of Population Members, Allies, and Advocates

Who are the allies and advocates of this population group?

What can be learned from allies and advocates about the history of experiences with the target population and the pressing problems and opportunities?

How can relationships be built and maintained?

Recall what you learned in this chapter by completing the Chapter Review.

Assess Your Competence

Use the scale below to rate your current level of achievement on the following concepts or skills associated with each learning outcome listed at the beginning of this chapter:

1 2 3

I can accurately describe the concept or skill(s) associated with this outcome. I can consistently identify the concept or skill(s) associated with this outcome when observing and analyzing practice activities. I can competently implement the concept or skill(s) associated with this outcome in my own practice.

                                Discuss issues of discrimination and oppression faced by different population groups.

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