22 SES 07 B, Teaching and Learning: Reflections & Skills
The global standards for social work education and training (2004), developed by the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), can be seem as one of the several recent initiatives to internationalize the social work profession worldwide (Dominelli, 2010). The document identifies universal, yet flexible, principles of what social work should represent worldwide, divided into nine standards - programme objectives and outcomes, programme curricula, core curricula, professional staff, students, administration and governance, ethnic diversity and gender inclusiveness, and ethical codes (Sewpaul & Jones, 2004). While some studies have been looking at the impact of the initiative in specific countries/areas (Barretta-Herman, 2008) or study programs/curriculum (Barretta-Herman et al, 2014), less attention has been paid to the diffusion of ideas and norms from the IASSW to their world-regional and national members and how do they interpret and implement such ideas and norms in their contexts. Several studies have been signaling the role of international organizations in the pilotage of global educational governance either through more regulative-based practices, such as funding (Dale, 2005), more soft forms such as agenda setting (Jakobi, 2006) and teaching of norms (Finnemore, 1993), or as knowledge producers and diffusers (Zapp, 2017).
Thus, the aim of the presentation is to analyze the diffusion of ideas and norms by the global standards for social work education and training initiative in higher education and infer about the construction of a global field of social work education. In order to capture such process, we support the analysis in sociological institutionalism (Powell & DiMaggio, 1991) to show how the role of IASSW and IFSW has been creating cognitive scripts that provide ‘frames of meaning’ to world regional and national members, such as the case of schools of education. Taking into consideration that social work is a highly contextualized and nationally based discipline and profession (Dominelli, 2010), we question whether global normative pressures to social work education has led to scenarios of isomorphism, differentiation or both. Thus, we conceptualize the global field of social work as a nested organizational field (Hüther & Krücken, 2016) and receive contributions from world society (Meyer et al, 1997) and Scandinavian institutionalism (Sahlin-Andersson & Wedlin, 2008) to understand how certain legitimized ideas and norms in the global field might be diffused, translated or edited to the world regional and national fields, paying particular attention to the European region. Thus, we expect that our study contributes to the discussion of cultural-cognitive and normative scripts in the pilotage of global education governance, while at the same time we contribute to the discussion of how international organizations might trigger both scenarios of isomorphism and differentiation.
In this research, we ask the following question: Which ideas and norms circulate in the global field of social work education and how do they diffuse and are translated and edited in the world regions and national contexts? This question is divided into three sub-questions: 1) Which ideas and norms are circulating in the global, world regional and national fields and what forms of legitimacy do those ideas have? 2) What is the relationship between the global and national standards and how is this relationship interpreted in different fields? and 3) How are the global ‘frames of meaning’ translated and edited into local context and how do local practices interfere with the global standards? The aim of this research is threefold. First, different ideas and norms can be located on different levels and can hold different forms of legitimacy according to where they circulate. Thus, our first aim is to understand, which ideas and norms are circulating in the global, world regional and national fields. Second, we aim to understand the relationship between ideas and norms from the different overlapping organizational fields. Third, we aim to understand how global ideas are edited and translated into the world regional and national fields. This exploratory study is approached qualitatively to get in-depth knowledge of the diffusion of the Global Standards and to generate more research questions for further research. Data were collected from 14 experts from different world regions of IASSW through semi-structured interviews. The experts formed three groups of participants; global actors, world regional actors, and Global Standards committee members. Each group of participants had their own questions that helped to define the areas of interest but allowed the participants to express their ideas in detail. The flexibility that allows the discovery, elaboration, and recognition of important but previously unrecognized information was central for this research. All interviews were conducted in English through Skype due to long geographical distances. Participants were chosen through purposeful and snowball sampling based on their understanding of the research problem and the central phenomenon (Creswell 2009). The participants gave their consent and the interviews were recorded and transcribed. The data is analyzed in an inductive thematic content analysis technique as there is not enough former knowledge of the phenomenon.
The major idea connected to the global standards initiative is the desire to develop accreditation systems that can assure quality in the social work education. Such desire came as a reaction to the rise of other important actors in the global education governance, such as the case of the European Union. The results show both scenarios of isomorphism and differentiation. Isomorphism can be seen in three different scenarios, a) a large number of countries already have national standards aligned with the global standards, even before the work of the initiative, which shows the power of certain ‘frames of meaning’ for social work education; b) because the global standards enjoy a certain degree of legitimacy, countries with less developed national systems of accreditation tend to look to the initiative either as a source of guidance, to implement national and organizational standards, or as a source of pressure from national professional organization(s) to show the need for the concrete policies for the social work education and profession; and, c) despite the fact that the Global Standards initiative is a guidance document, actors in the field reported that some countries and organizations use it to benchmark the curricular programmes. Moreover, the results also show that a certain degree of decoupling or window dressing is occurring, which needs further research in order to assess the degree of isomorphism. Alongside with isomorphism, the results also show differentiation. While isomorphism can be found in national structures, such in the systems of accreditation for social work education, differentiation processes can be found in the organizational practices of social work education institutions. Thus, the processes of editing and translation undergo a process of localization where global and national legitimized ideas and norms meet local knowledge that is intrinsically connected with the context where social work education operates.
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