A Futures Lens for Covid-19 – Resources for Social Workers, Change Agents, Educators and the Helping Professions

My last blog post was an opportunity to link what is happening with Covid-19 to a futures lens in the social work profession.

In the subsequent weeks, it becomes more clear than ever that the coronavirus will be a powerful teacher in ways that stretch our collective sense of what is possible.

For many reasons, I’ve been reflecting on a futures game that I was asked to develop by the Dean Goutham Menon last April for the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work meeting that spring. In this game, I came up with numerous scenarios for social work educators to consider – both utopian and dystopian – and some in between.

The relevant question to the players was – which of these scenarios is most likely to happen, and which is social work as a profession most ready for? One of those scenarios was a global pandemic, based on my own work tracking plausible futures noted by practicing futurists and the disaster preparedness communities. But certainly, no one could have predicted how quickly this would become relevant if not dominant in our thinking and our lives. Since then, I’ve had the chance to play the game with hundreds of other social workers, social work educators and community members. Each time we played, we used our imagination matched with our intellect to meet the challenge presented and considered how our profession might need to reach, to grow, to change to meet the moment should it present itself. Futures work, as I’ve said previously on this blog – is about cultivating collective imagination, agility and intelligence. If you’d like to explore and/or play the game yourself – you can download it here.

Lately, there have been numerous social and historical commentators discussing the degree to which pandemics throughout history have changed the world – important contributions. This has led me to consider how social work itself as an idea, as a project, as an institution, as a profession – might itself change due to what is happening.

Perhaps this is a pivotal moment in the history of social work as we know it.

How will Covid-19 change the social work profession? Expand us, evolve us, strengthen us, test us, challenge us, improve us, threaten us, force us? Let’s allow this moment to envision what our evolution might look like to best meet the times we live in.

What do you think? Futures thinking invites us to dedicate a part of our work to these questions even as we respond to the urgent and immediate needs of the communities we work with.

For those that are teachers are learners, I’ve continued to gather social work-relevant links and items here. They include a hearty dose of covid/pandemic-specific futures thinking. All of these resources link us to thinkers, reporters and scholars who are exploring or doing work in areas I think are relevant to and useful for social workers. They can help us inform and explore…what comes next for us and for the things that we care about.

This document will soon be transitioning to a crowd-sourced living resource so that we can continue to strengthen learning networks and communities that help us grow and be responsive to the challenge of our times. Stay tuned.

As noted previously, also follow me on Twitter at @lauranissen for more information and search the hashtag #SWcovid19 for additional ideas and resources.


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