Introduction – Overview

In recent decades, there has been considerable attention devoted to the nature of interest group conflict and emerging structural changes in the American economic, social and political system. The economic changes have perhaps been the key indicators of emerging trends. These changes have been reflected mainly in the amount of economic activity and occupations devoted to services since the late 1950's; the increasing concern with technological growth; the close collaboration between national government policies and planning and the private sector; national governmental assistance for urban and suburban problems, and more recently, the increased mandates of interest groups for national policies on natural resources and population growth. The major social problems of education, welfare and related aspects of family planning have been closely intertwined with the emergent economic developments. And, concurrently a significant amount of the debate in the political arena has reflected these socio-economic concerns.

The basis for much of the discussion and analysis has been directly related to public policy formulation and the increased demands for adequate and/or efficient services by all segments of the public. Developing from these demands are issues which have significantly brought into focus, current and potential conflicts among social, class, and racial interest groups regarding priorities, levels of benefits,and goals of service organizations.

Many of the conflicts are specifically and more narrowly related, however, to the large lower income subsector of the population located in metropolitan areas. And, these are greatly accentuated by the historical failure of the U.S. to develop urban, or related planning or social welfare policies which would take into account or compliment the profound changes in the private economic sector.

This absence of policy and often theoretical understanding of the changes of the socio-economic structures, has been gradually altered with the growth of a body of theoreticians and technicians forecasting trends in the social and economic sectors. However, the adoption of broad structural administrative policies based on new conceptualizations for the public sector have been subjected to greater scrutiny than in any period prior to the service era. The major dimensions of scrutiny and accountability has resulted from both clients, and salaried service workers pressuring designated public management officials on all levels for formal rights and inclusion in organizational decision-making.

These current and potential conflicts among various interest groups are emerging as a unique development in American history. Institutionalized procedures of both older, and developing client organizations, are continually reflecting the objectives of client interest groups traditionally underepresented or politically powerless in influencing organizational procedures. Additionally, professional unions and associations in most service organizations are continually demanding rights regarding responsibilities to clients and the organization. The trends, particularly in the older urban areas, indicate that the client organizations in which conflict has been most persistent regarding benefits to clients and professional responsibilities, will be the ones in which goals are most difficult to define or redefine in the future. And, if trends of the past decade are reliable indicators, it will be in those client organizations which are most susceptible to the inclusion of racial and class biases, that major conflicts involving the public, professionals, and management will occur. Succintly, the emerging trends in the social, economic, and political structures, indicate that many of the more difficult areas of defining goals for a significant segment of the population in the service era will rest on the nature of conflicts among social and ethnic interest groups both internal and external to client organizations. The ability therefore of public officials to mediate solutions which can be adequately managed in client organizations as structural changes in the larger society accelerate, will be a major factor in future social welfare decision-making.