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What is Macro Social Work?

June 03, 2019

What is macro social work and what makes it different from other types of social work? To start, the social work field can be broken down into types of practice: macro, mezzo, and micro social work. The scope of work for the social worker depends on which category they practice within.

Mezzo-level social work focuses on smaller groups such as neighborhoods and community organizations. Micro-level social work deals directly with families and individuals (this is often seen in clinical social work and therapy).1

Macro-level social work focuses on the community at large and systems-level functions. Social workers in this segment of the field work with large groups of people, communities, cities and major institutions. Macro-level social work typically does not typically involve working one-on-one with clients in a patient-social worker dynamic. However, many who go on to work in macro social work have experience with micro-level social work since individual research can lead to interventions and solutions for larger problems facing the community.1

What Do Macro-Level Social Workers Do

Macro social work covers a myriad of practices including social work research, community-based education initiatives and organizational development, program development and evaluation, policy analysis and advocacy, and nonprofit administration and leadership.2 These practices can involve anything from organizing community efforts, leading community development initiatives, working with a government agency to address a nation’s public health crisis, planning interventions to reduce poverty or increasing literacy rates. It may even include working to find solutions to global crises such as human trafficking. Social workers practicing at the macro level can find themselves participating in advocacy and policy work from the grassroots level all the way to large-scale political lobbying.1

At the most basic level, macro-level social workers do the following things:2

  • Investigate social issues: This is usually done through research and community outreach, as well as through previous micro-level social work
  • Develop and manage programs for marginalized populations: These programs and initiatives aim to assist certain communities and demographics. This could include anything from helping a community receive adequate healthcare to creating support programs and community outreach initiatives.
  • Advocating for underserved populations: As advocates for disadvantaged populations, social workers may lobby for legislative changes or contact government officials to discuss systematic issues in the community.
  • Educating communities: This can be seen as a part of advocacy, but it can also be a tool for social change all on its own. Social workers may create and implement educational initiatives to teach the community about health education and other issues. They can also create educational materials so that the information they’ve gathered about social issues can be distributed broadly to the community they serve.

Macro Social Work Jobs

Social workers in this part of the field can work in a myriad of settings including political advocacy groups, non-profits and volunteer organizations, government think tanks,universities and other research institutions. Positions and job titles for macro-level social work tend to vary greatly and can be hard to categorize. This is due in large part to the fact that they’re not as specifically defined as roles in clinical social work. For example, a clinical social worker who practices in a psychiatric setting would generally be called a clinical or psychiatric social worker. A macro social worker who manages and designs human services programs could have a variety of titles ranging from community specialist to human services specialist. The following list is really only the tip of the iceberg of roles you may pursue in macro-level social work:2

  • Research associates and analysts: These roles are typically found in universities and other research settings. Social workers in these positions research the origins of macro-level social problems and then share their findings with the general public and micro-level social workers. These social workers focus on how these issues directly impact society’s well-being and find ways for social workers to address them.
  • Community educators: Community educators focus on creating and implementing large-scale education initiatives to help communities who are combating challenges such as health issues, substance abuse and the need for education or career advancement.
  • Policy advocates and analysts: These social workers seek to shed light on everyday issues that lead to individual challenges, and then they work to develop large-scale strategies to address these macro-level problems.
  • Community and human services specialists: Community and human services specialists usually can be found in government public health or human services departments. They may also work in housing and relief aid agencies. Social workers in this area of the field provide guidance for program development, organizational support and help interpret policies.

Entering the Macro Social Work Field

Due to the wide applicability of macro-level social work, the path to joining the field looks a bit different for each person. Working in macro social work generally requires a solid understanding of policies, systems and the wider implications of social circumstances that affect the overall well-being of the populations that are served. Because of this, students should look for classes that cover topics such as legal issues, public policy, community leadership and behavioral healthcare systems. If you already know which area of macro-social work you would like to focus on, look for classes that incorporate topics relevant to that sector.2

As we mentioned earlier, the roles in macro social work are much more loosely defined than they are in micro-social work, which will likely be the biggest challenge you’ll face when searching for work in this field. Knowing how to gain experience and hone your search for jobs that are relevant to your interests is key. Volunteering can give you valuable experience as well as a clearer understanding of what you enjoy doing, the skills you already possess and the skills you still need to develop.

If you feel called to help communities identify needs, create interventions and establish policies to improve the quality of life in those communities, we’re here to help you accomplish those goals. To learn more about how to broaden your reach while helping the underserved, check out the online Master of Social Work from Yeshiva University.

1. Retrieved on May 20, 2019, from socialworkdegreeguide.com/faq/what-is-macro-social-work/2. Retrieved on May 20, 2019, from onlinemswprograms.com/careers/types-of-social-work/guide-to-macro-social-work.html