In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Organizational Development and Change

  • Introduction
  • Overview of Health and Human Service Organizations
  • General Theoretical Overview of Organizational Change
  • Defining Organizational Development Leading to Change
  • Empirical Articles about Planned Organizational Change
  • Case Studies of Organizational Change
  • Databases and Professional Associations

Social Work Organizational Development and Change
Erick G. Guerrero, Karissa Fenwick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0176


This literature review is designed to provide an overview of the major theories of organizational change and development needed for understanding macro social work practice. It introduces the reader to theoretical frameworks underpinning organizational change from different perspectives. These perspectives will provide readers with an opportunity to critically assess theories and their applications to social work management and planning in human services settings. The review’s main emphasis is on social work’s principle of system change. Particular attention is focused on the study of relevant issues, such as the role of external and internal factors associated with organizational change in terms of changing of routines, practices, or structure. The compilation of studies in this comprehensive literature review includes seminal readings on the foundations of organizational thought regarding change and development, as well as studies that successfully incorporate such foundations to inform an evidentiary base on organizational responses to lead planned change.

Overview of Health and Human Service Organizations

A prerequisite for the study of organizational development and change in human services organizations is an understanding of the nature, characteristics, and features of these organizations. Although vastly diverse in scope, size, structure, and mission, all human services organizations are unified by the fact that people are the “raw material” that is transformed by each agency’s technology, a fact that distinguishes them from other organizations in several important ways. These distinguishing characteristics of human services organizations are examined in Hasenfeld 2009a, and theoretical approaches specific to human services organizations are presented in Garrow and Hasenfeld 2009. These two resources are chapters in Hasenfeld’s compilation of essays (Hasenfeld 2009b), which combines theory and examples to create a perspective with which to study human services organizations. Patti 2000 provides an overview of current research on a wide range of topics related to human services agencies, creating a valuable resource for managers as well as those seeking to understand social welfare agencies.

  • Garrow, Eve, and Yeheskel Hasenfeld. 2009. Theoretical approaches to human service organizations. In Human services as complex organizations. 2d ed. Edited by Yeheskel Hasenfeld, 33–58. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This essay reviews major organizational theories that are especially applicable to human services organizations and have empirical support. A wide array of theories is presented, ranging from the rational-legal model to postmodernist theory.

  • Hasenfeld, Yeheskel. 2009a. The attributes of human service organizations. In Human services as complex organizations. 2d ed. Edited by Yeheskel Hasenfeld, 9–32. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Exploring distinguishing factors of human services organizations such as the unique professional-client relationship; human services as moral, emotional, and gendered work; and the constant struggle for legitimacy, this essay offers essential insight into these distinct organizations and lays the groundwork for understanding them.

  • Hasenfeld, Yeheskel, ed. 2009b. Human services as complex organizations. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book presents the latest theoretical and empirical findings on human service organizations by offering students the essential analytical tools needed to understand human behavior in macro social work environments. It further introduces topics such as policy, environment, and advocacy, and discusses the impact these have on human service organizations. It concludes by offering students a new perspective that draws from understanding human services from different organizational ideologies.

  • Patti, Rino J. 2000. The handbook of social welfare management. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book provides a detailed review of current literature on human services management, including historical and current ideologies, organizational theories, management practice and processes, culture and climate, leadership, infrastructure, and obtaining legitimacy. Special attention is given to the roles, responsibilities, and tasks of managers in social welfare agencies; as such, this resource is particularly valuable to managers.

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