For the past three years, Carol S. Cohen, D.S.W., associate professor in Adelphi's School of Social Work, has served as principal investigator on a team of evaluators studying an innovative and unprecedented collaboration between seven U.S. schools of social work engaged, in pairs, with seven Chinese institutions.
International Collaboration Points to the Future of Social Work
For the past three years, Carol S. Cohen, D.S.W., associate professor in Adelphi’s School of Social Work, has served as principal investigator on a team of evaluators studying an innovative and unprecedented collaboration between seven U.S. schools of social work engaged, in pairs, with seven Chinese institutions.
The project was set in motion when representatives of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, the U.S. Council on Social Work Education and Chinese leaders engaged in a series of discussions about the growth of social work education in China. Those conversations set the stage for what became known as the China–U.S. Social Work Collaborative.
“I was fortunate to hear about the Collaborative in its early stages, and was intrigued and excited by its high expectations for mutual cooperation and benefit for each of the partners,” Dr. Cohen said. “It had great potential to spur the growth of the profession in China and build international relationships. It could also be a great learning experience for the U.S. partners, who could bring home with them new ideas, lessons and experiences to enhance domestic programs and global perspectives.
“I was honored to be asked to join the project’s external evaluation team, with the opportunity to craft the methods, secure funding and implement the multilevel evaluation with a cross-national team of researchers and leaders in international social work education. The Collaborative achieved a great deal and will continue to be seen as a support to global and local development efforts in social work.” Co-investigators evaluating the Collaborative, along with Dr. Cohen, were Yuk-chung Chan, Ph.D., a member of the faculty of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Susan Lawrence, a board member of the International Association of Schools of Social Work and past president of the European Association of Schools of Social Work. The evaluation was supported by funds from the Katherine A. Kendall Institute for International Social Work Education, Peking University–The Hong Kong Polytechnic University China Social Work Research Centre, and in-kind contributions from the evaluators’ universities and the Council on Social Work Education.
Seven pairs of institutions—Peking University and the University of Chicago; East China University of Science and Technology and the University of Houston; Nanjing University and the University of Southern California; Yunnan University and the University of Alabama; Jilin University and Fordham University; Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Arizona State University; and Northwest University and Case Western Reserve University—participated in the program. Collaboration began in 2012, inaugurating five-year regional relationships that included faculty, staff and student exchanges; mentoring and consultation; and research infrastructure building and curriculum development. Largely nonprescriptive by design, the Collaborative gave each of the regional teams free rein to develop a partnership based on good social work practice that met local needs and conditions.
So complex was the scope of the Collaborative’s activities— essentially seven different international collaborations, with seven unique strategies, whose collective work over five years was under study to understand emerging challenges and best practices—that Dr. Cohen and her team needed a web of approaches to manage their evaluation.
Working closely with the project’s Evaluation Advisory Group, they developed an integrated evaluative methodology that included content analysis of documents emerging from the Collaborative, literature review, interviews, meetings and focus groups. Those elements enabled analysis of comparable data sets, analysis of cross-partnership themes and identification of emerging best practices in international collaboration through the project’s five-year implementation.
When the wide-ranging partnerships and evaluation wrapped up in 2017, Dr. Cohen’s team produced an exhaustive final report that identified emerging best practices across the Collaborative and in each region, along with implications for future work in China, the United States and internationally. External Evaluation Report and Appendices of the China-United States Social Work Collaborative, published by the International Association of Schools of Social Work, appears on the Council on Social Work Education website and was presented at major conferences in Beijing, Paris and Dallas.
“The overall experience of the Collaborative,” Dr. Cohen wrote, “provides evidence that a value-based, ethical, culturally conscious and adaptive social work orientation will provide needed guidance for the development of appropriate collaborative processes and strategies, including the imperative to tailor activities to regional conditions.”
“In essence,” she added, “the Collaborative was a social work project in itself. Partners brought their professional knowledge, skills and values, and used them as they worked to find common ground amid diverse needs and interests. Our evaluation team was also guided by social work models of team collaboration, through which we fostered respectful, cross-cultural processes to support our work.”
Dr. Cohen’s work evaluating the Collaborative wasn’t her only recent project. She also produced a book on international partnerships, Practicing as a Social Work Educator in International Collaboration (CSWE Press, 2017), which she edited with Alice K. Butterfield, Ph.D., a professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Identifying emerging principles from key informants with diverse international experiences, the book offers U.S.-based educators a professional social work-centered perspective and guide for international partnerships.
In July 2017, Dr. Cohen was selected to chair the national CSWE Commission on Global Social Work Education. It seems the logical extension of not only the projects that commanded her attention over the past few years, but also of her abiding interest in social work in diverse cultures. It’s an interest that has produced a wide network of colleagues around the world and many social work journeys.
“The Collaborative achieved a great deal, and will continue to be seen as a support to global and local development efforts in social work.”
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