Level 3

Risks Through Interventions

Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion is: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The larger the change – the bigger the reaction.
Those who initiate large scale changes should keep in mind the (law of unintended consequences) i.e. ‘ Any planned action will have consequences that are not intended or unforeseen’.

Blocking rivers causes flooding.
In Africa, Ethiopia began construction of a Blue Nile hydro-electric dam in 2011 to secure water supply and electricity for their country. The change in the water supply is having major consequences for Sudan and Egypt which some fear could lead to war. 

It’s recognised that change is constant and people are consistently planning change but creating change has consequences, even though changes are usually meant to be for the good, they may not be good for everyone as there can be unintended consequences. It’s said that most major changes are conceived by a small number of people who hold positions of authority within organisations and view change through the lens of their background, biases and interests. These people have a tendency to gloss over the complexities and often fail to involve those who have detailed knowledge of the effects on processes, systems and structures. Consequentially, their plans tend to overlook the possible knock-on effects that can arise from them.

An integral part of social work is to create change through interventions but the outcome from decision making can be uncertain and planned changes don’t always lead to the planned effects. When changes fail to achieve the desired outcome, it’s probably because people didn’t see the consequences or know which factors altered the outcome. For example,

1. Doctors prescribing pain killers have created an opioid epidemic.
2. Boy used to punch his Granma after a visit from the social worker.
3. A husband left his wife after being cured of agoraphobia.
4. A lady taken off anti-depressant’s drugs by her doctor committed suicide.
5. An adolescent was encouraged to fight back when being bullied, he accidently killed the bully and spent 4 years in prison.

Estimating the consequences is important when asking people to do something different but this should also include the consequences of no intervention. Also what happens when there is a difference of opinion about an intervention.

Exercise: What would be the consequences if social work training is improved?