In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Planning

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Manuals and Technical Documents
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Planning Theory
  • Cultural Competency and Diversity in Planning
  • Social Planning in a Global Context
  • Professional Organizations and Resources for Social Planners
  • Applying Social Planning Techniques

Social Work Social Planning
Donna Hardina
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0123


Social planning is a process for planning social services programs, services, and policies. Government agencies engage in large-scale development, research, and planning to address social problems. For example, the Social Security program during the Great Depression and the antipoverty programs of the 1960s were developed by government planners relying on research, previous theories, and model programs initiated by local, state, and foreign governments. However, nonprofit agencies, local planning councils, and community groups also plan services and programs to address community needs. The term “social planning” is used generically to describe the planning of social services or efforts to improve the quality of life in communities. Social planning is also referred to as “neighborhood planning” if it takes place in community settings. Planning education is typically offered in graduate programs in urban planning, public health, and social work, but the emphasis on the types and venues appropriate for planning differ by discipline.

General Overviews

Most social workers are likely to engage in social planning at the agency level when they design a new program to address client needs or write a funding proposal. Although many social workers are involved to some degree in agency-level planning, social planning is generally considered a subfield, separate and distinct from practice with individuals, groups, and families. Rothman 1979 and Rothman 1996 identify social planning as one of three primary models of community organization in addition to social action and community development. Rothman describes the primary goal of social planning as problem solving. Social planners gather the facts about community problems, analyze data, and make logical decisions about which of the available planning options are the most feasible or effective. Much of the social work literature on this topic describes social planning techniques and their application to various forms of community and administrative practice. For example, Weil 2005 describes how planning takes place in communities and the skills necessary to facilitate the planning process. Meenaghan, et al. 2004 describes how applied research techniques such as needs assessment and program evaluation are used to guide social planning and social policy analysis Checkoway 1995 examines how social planning methods are applied in urban areas. Austin and Solomon 2000 describes techniques used to plan programs and service delivery systems.

  • Austin, Michael J., and Jeffery R. Solomon. 2000. Managing in the planning process. In The handbook of social welfare management. Edited by Rino Patti, 341–359. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Describes planning in social welfare organizations. This chapter focuses on the three types of planning generally undertaken by organization managers: program planning and evaluation, operational planning, and strategic or long-term planning for the organization’s future growth and development.

  • Checkoway, Barry. 1995. Two types of planning in neighborhoods. In Strategies of Community Intervention. 5th ed. Edited by Jack Rothman, John L. Erlich, and John E. Tropman, 314–327. Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock.

    Checkoway distinguishes between subarea planning in which government agencies create plans for specific neighborhoods and neighborhood planning in which groups of residents and other stakeholders initiate efforts to develop plans for community improvement. Previous editions were published in 1970, 1974, 1979, and 1987 under the title Strategies of Community Organization. Subsequent editions were published in 2001 and 2008.

  • Meenaghan, Thomas M., Keith M. Kilty, and John G. McNutt. 2004. Social policy analysis and practice. Chicago: Lyceum.

    This text describes how the use of research evidence guides the development of social policies and programs. Content is included on program design, social indicator analysis, needs assessment, and evaluation.

  • Rothman, Jack. 1979. Three models of community organization practice, their mixing and phasing. In Strategies of community organization. 3d ed. Edited by Fred M. Cox, John L. Erlich, Jack Rothman, and John E. Tropman, 25–45. Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock.

    Rothman provides an overview of three primary models of community organization practice: social action, community development, and social planning. He argues that it is appropriate for different models to be used during different phases of an organizing campaign. Previous editions published in 1970 and 1974; subsequent editions published in 2001 and 2008.

  • Rothman, Jack. 1996. The interweaving of community intervention approaches. Journal of Community Practice 3.3/4:69–99.

    DOI: 10.1300/J125v03n03_03

    Rothman reexamines his earlier work on community organization and describes how aspects of each of the three models can be combined to create alternative approaches.

  • Weil, Marie. 2005. Social planning with communities. In The handbook of community practice. Edited by Marie Weil, Michael Reisch, Dorothy Gamble, Lorraine Gutierrez, Elizabeth Mulroy, and Ram Cnaan, 215–243. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Weil describes the venues in which social planning takes place and the role of the planner. She also identifies steps in the planning process. This chapter contains several case studies on community planning.

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