A New Chapter – a National Social Work Education Health Futures Lab!!

Thrilled to announce!!! More will be posted (and likely a website specific to this effort yet to come – but for now – please watch this space for updates!! Many thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for this opportunity!!

January 7, 2020.   

Press release:   Portland State University becomes new home to National Social Work Education Health Futures Lab funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Portland State University School of Social Work received a 2-year, $400,000 award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create a national Social Work Education Health Futures Lab. The lab will explore how trends in technology, climate change, geopolitical shifts and the future of work are set to impact health, social determinants of health and related social justice, equity and social work practice. 

“This project has the opportunity to create a new and generative space for social work health scholars, researchers and educators nationally to prepare our profession for a rapidly changing and developing future in which new opportunities and risks co-exist to impact human flourishing,” said Principal Investigator Dr. Laura Nissen, Professor and former Dean of the School of Social Work, who is also a PSU Presidential Futures Fellow, and a Research Fellow with the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. “This project can create a new network, building on the success of other related national innovation networks such as the Grand Challenges for Social Work, to co-create the future thoughtfully, equitably, and creatively.”  

This project builds on ongoing work Nissen has been engaged in, exploring and inviting social workers nationally to consider futures and “foresight” methods in their practice.

With the support and endorsement of the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools Work Programs and a variety of social work education leaders, this project will expand social work knowledge by training social work education leaders as futurists, organizing learning opportunities and crafting new national education standards to better prepare the field to address the opportunities and risks associated with emergent trends.

This national learning collaborative will be comprised of nominated social work education leaders across the United States who are doing cutting edge research scholarship and teaching related to issues of the future including:

  • The relationship of social media and technology to human health and well-being 
  • Use of artificial intelligence in relation to health (including the exploration of algorithmic racism as well as vital problem-solving opportunities)
  • Geopolitical issues shifting the nature of place and identity
  • Power and control of individual well-being, especially with regard to vulnerable people
  • The impact of climate change and climate justice on human health
  • The future of work for marginalized populations
  • The access to and use of technology as a tool of power and set of health rights

“Portland State University has a long tradition of asking innovative questions and providing the leadership to partner with communities to answer them. We are excited to continue this tradition with this project — and celebrate the chance to welcome leaders from around the country to learn with us and cultivate readiness to build a more equitable and healthy world ahead,” said Interim President Dr. Stephen Percy.  

Selected “fellows” will receive specially developed foresight training and coaching in futures and foresight frameworks in partnership with the Institute for the Future and will develop new platforms to elevate and amplify collective communications regarding the importance of social work educators to learn to prepare to respond thoughtfully to emergent and future challenges to a wide range of human rights and social determinants of health issues.

“Our Portland State University is proud to provide a convening space for these vitally important dialogues for our profession nationally. How will emerging trends in the world regarding human health and well being surprise, challenge and stretch us as a profession? How will our unique strength as a profession contribute to the future of well-being and health in vulnerable communities around the world?  This effort will give us rare protected space and the opportunity to engage in exploration of the answers to that and many other related questions,” said PSU School of Social Work Dean Jose E. Coll.

The project will also shine a light on the ways the “future of work” might impact social workers themselves who work with social determinants of health issues, including the ways that roles, tools and methods may expand and become even more interdisciplinary and more technological in the coming years. These explorations may lead to a host of new ideas about how to best teach and prepare the next generation for effective leadership and practice in a changing world. 

At Institute for the Future, Lyn Jeffery, Distinguished Fellow and Director of IFTF Foresight Essentials, said, “Social workers are building the future, one interaction at a time, through their work at the intersections of health, identity, technology, environment, and equity. IFTF is pleased to be partnering with Dr. Nissen and PSU to help shape new perspectives in social work futures education. We look forward to collaborating with the new lab as it builds the necessary tools and perspectives to overcome the limitations of ‘short-termism,’ fostering a deep bench of foresight leaders within the social work field.”

Please contact Dr. Laura Nissen for additional information at nissen@pdx.edu.

Prediction- and Trend-Palooza – (early) 2020

Futurists are not big on making “predictions.” That said, looking over all the ideas that other people have across the landscape of the economic/social/government landscape is a valuable exercise. Many of these won’t come true, or may not come true in the ways we think they will, and some will happen. Surely other things will happen that we didn’t see coming. More to the point…what is around the corner from these predictions?

I like looking at them…but I take them all with a grain of salt and a degree of skepticism. As stated earlier in this blog…they are more valuable as a collection…and I think they communicate as much or more collectively as they do individually.

These are amusing, interesting, disturbing and complex. I’ve tried to gather up a few I thought were particularly of note…but this list isn’t exhaustive at all. Offered just to begin getting our brains wrapped around the idea that 2020 is here…and new things will keep coming! (I’ll keep adding to this list in the early months of 2020 as I’m sure more will be coming!!)

Let’s learn together and use all this (and more information) that we discover and gather to build the future we want. But first – a couple of bonus pieces that stretch our creativity and reflection skills!

Predictions and Forecasts for 2020

Tech predictions for the decade ahead: What will happen by 2030? (2019)

5G is coming – what does it mean? (2019)

How AI and automation will change the way we use technology in 2020 (2019)

4 ways work will change in 2020

Government trends 2020

Trends in digital mental health 2020

2020 Strategic trends glossary for higher education

Top trends in higher education

State of mental health in America 2020

5 consumer trends in 2020

The U.S.’s top jobs in 2020 according to LinkedIn

15 AI predictions for 2020

Tech trends for 2020

Another interesting piece reflecting some history – it’s about how the social science research from 2010 to 2019 foresaw some important contemporary developments. Love a good shout out to the role of history in futures work! The 2010s featured a lot of great social science. Here are my 12 favorite studies. (2019).

This is from last year – geopolitical forecast

Navigating a world of disruption (2019)

New article wrapped up and out for review! Social Work and Foresight!

This is the first in a series of multiple upcoming articles in process regarding social work and foresight/futures practice. Wish me luck in the review process!!

Social Work, the Future and Technology: A Foresight Lens and a Call to Action for the Profession

Laura Burney Nissen

Abstract

As we head into the year 2020, a set of questions looms large over the social work profession.  Are there social problems of the future that are “around the corner” from what we can see right now that may change the way we think about power, social problems, possible solutions and opportunities?    What new opportunities might appear, and would we as a profession, be able to spot and leverage them to advance the well-being of vulnerable people with whom we work and ally? This is a paper that explores what being more future facing might look like as social workers and educators, using technology as a sample focus area and introducing foresight practice frameworks and methods that are available to assist us.  Foresight practice is a collection of ideas and methods that support individuals and groups to be more effective (and foresightful) in navigating increasingly turbulent economic, political, natural and social ecosystems.  It’s goals are to a) to develop collective intelligence, agility and imagination b) do so in the service of increasing intentional evolution of thought and action, c)  refine the ability to anticipate with greater proficiency and finally d) increase the probability of co-creating desired futures in keeping with social work values including but limited to antiracism, human rights and social justice.  The paper ends with a call to action for social work to amplify and evolve its strengths to join the interdisciplinary community of those using forecasting methods to build a better future.