This is part of a monthly series of posts to share a few things I run across regarding the future of social work (and beyond). For people involved in foresight practice, the practice of scanning, organizing and creatively interpreting “signals of change” in the ecosystem is a primary and foundational part of the work. This blog is a place where I’m doing that “out loud” and in public to both share what I’m finding, and encouraging readers to do the same. Sometimes I turn these signals into interesting “Social Work Jobs of the Future” as another type of foresight practice (worldbuilding and artifacts from the future in the form of new job descriptions). This gathering is not meant to be exhaustive…it is a changing, evolving space. The combination of “finds” tends to be focused on five intersecting categories that my work in social work futures is increasingly oriented to:
- The future of social issues
- The future of social movements
- The future of social welfare
- The future of racism and other isms
- The future of professions
- And a good old “miscellaneous” category in case something great appears that doesn’t directly fit. Here goes!
Here’s a couple of previous posts from December,one devoted to futures of Tech Justice in January and another from February.
The future of social issues
- Chat GPT – well ready or not, here it is. Are you on board, excited, and/or resisting a new wave of tech that purports to have world changing capabilities? I’ve been reading, playing, exploring and considering (did you see my Chat GPT experiment to celebrate Social Work Month?) Here’s a brief round up a few pieces that I liked that helped lay a necessary foundation in a good old list of links. For the most part, I think we have a long way to go before I’ll be a regular user…but the experimenting that is happening is intriguing. As a social worker…what I’m most interested in are the following questions: Can Chat GPT help busy professionals manage unwieldy tasks lists in ethical ways? AND… Can Chat GPT serve individuals and communities in ways that aid in their empowerment, impact and advancement towards their own goals? So far…I haven’t seen a lot in either of these areas…but I’ll be watching.
- A century of covid-19: What history tells us about the long-term effects of a pandemic. Basically, we’re not going to see the end of the impacts of this pandemic for many many years…and we need to get our systems ready for what that means in terms of future care needs. Related piece: Lack of preparedness for the next pandemic is an emergency.
- Every coastal home is now a stick of dynamite. This issue is also connected to the future of insurance…which for numerous generations now, has been some sort of protection (imperfectly) for the middle class. What happens when increasing numbers of places are simply “uninsurable?”
- The future of human rights in the face of rapid technological change is emerging as an important space right now. Here’s one piece: The need to protect the data in our brains – and – an interview with Dr. Nita Farahany about her new book The Fight for Your Brain. What should be done now to assure that the massive amounts of data produced in the human brain, and increasingly accessible due expanding sensing and monitoring, remains private and under the control of the thinker? Social Work Health Futures Lab Fellow, Dr. Sam Bradley recently shared with me that Chile is the first country to actually pass a national law regarding “neurorights.” Sounds like science fiction, but it is here.
- I often think that the “future of government” contains within it a variety of positive and negative scenarios…here’s a new report/interview exploring that topic with researcher Suzette Brooks Masters, and here’s the actual report on the future of democracy that is discussed.
- I’m doing a project right now on the future of reproductive justice (more to come) but in the mean time, here’s a post by advocate and journalist Jessica Valenti about awaiting the current Texas ruling on an abortion medication lawsuit that has national implications for the way that reproductive rights are thought about and codified. If it proceeds – it puts a whole new kind of legal/illegal framework to the way that the reproductive justice movement will proceed. (This author sends out frequent blog posts – worth following if you’re interested in this issue.)
- The Future Today Institute does a pretty extensive tech trends report – their new edition (2023 edition) is just out. Bring all your critical and tech justice sensibilities to explore and imagine – some possible tools for good and some possible unleashing of new kinds of social issues can all be found mashed up together in here.
The future of social movements
- How can we reform the outdated US patent system to lower drug prices? I was driving somewhere a few weeks ago when I heard this brilliant piece about a way to organize and advocate for a little known kink in the massive for profit health/big pharma business machine: the patent system. While this is not a sexy topic…I promise you it is a fascinating look at an issue that makes so much sense, is so energizing (and maddening) and so worthy of more interest and support. This is a movement I’m very excited about.
- Disconnecting from the “Unhappiness Machine.” Recently ran across this piece by George Tsakraklides called: The Delusion of Progress. He underscores the through line (and urgency) of awakening from the mythology of progress with such deep destruction in the natural and social work all around us. Worth a read.
- Social workers from around the U.S. (and beyond) recently gathered to launch a new shared movement: The Social Work Activist Collective has as its mission: The mission of SWAC is to: (1) Create clear pathways for individual social service and social change workers to connect with power-building organizations in their areas of interest/specialization where they can engage in radical political education, and contribute to the collective movement to shift the field of professionalized social-service work to a solidarity-focused model, and (2) Create a platform for sustained, radical dialogue and joint organizing actions on the issues confronting all of human services that, at present, are not being met by mainstream organizations. This includes building capacity for a rapid response network against fascist policies. Opportunities to get involved are included on the website. Get involved – this is a very engaging and visionary group.
- Recently discovered the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute which is a kind of think/action/community space for movement building capacity expansion. You can see some of their inspiring “praxis projects” here.
- Over 100 anti-LGBTQ bills before state legislatures in 2023 so far…the tireless work of advocates in this space is more important than ever. Here’s a bill tracker.
- Thinking about what the future of activism may be looking like is an essential building block for social workers of the future. Important book out this past year by Erica Chenowth called Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know. Here’s a talk sponsored by the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights where the author chats along with a selection of other distinguished panelists on similar topics. This recent piece about what is happening with Atlanta’s “Cop City” initiative, related resistance and the escalation of legal challenges for activists engaged in actions brings home how the issues of dissent are becoming more urgent.
The future of social welfare
- A gym for your feelings? Emotional support now comes with a membership fee. This one popped out at me this past month. It speaks to a yearning…but does so in a way that excludes vis a vis it’s payment system (IMO). Without a business model…this is called “community” and it turns out it is available everywhere. Nonetheless, it is a signal of “something” that is going on among the types of people who might avail themselves of this approach – and causes me to wonder what might come of this type of framework.
- Love this new work coming forward from FEMA exploring how to better incorporate trauma-informed design as a feature of its recovery frameworks and planning. The future of disaster response needs lots more trauma awareness – this is a step in the right direction. Thanks to Social Work Health Futures Lab Fellow, Rachael Dietkus for sharing this with me.
- How Denmark’s welfare state became a surveillance nightmare. I think a relevant question for all of us these days is, what are you doing to resist contributing to our own surveillance nightmare in the U.S.? This article provides some interesting and frightening markers. Here’s another recent piece with a chilling title “The Suspicion Machine” about machine learning AI going amok in Amsterdam. It’s important to underscore how many good things AI can do…but there are risks that the entirety of the world is discussing that are yet to be resolved and playing out before our eyes in real time at great cost to human rights and well-being.
- Making the social welfare stat fit for the future: Commission launches new EU high-level group is an overview of how the EU is exploring and planning for the future of “social care” systems evolution. I found a related piece by the International Labor Organization regarding: Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work which is an extensive global exploration of the future of equitable work in care spaces. These are vitally important and urgent underpinnings of the future of social welfare.
The future of racism, antiracism and other isms
- Very important new article called Against Predictive Optimization, the authors argue that this particular type of automated decision making that is billed as “accurate, fair and efficient” but that historically has been far from so. They suggest that it is possible to overcome these shortcomings but “any application of predictive optimization should be considered illegitimate by default unless the developer justifies how it avoids these flaws.” They analyze the types of spaces where these technologies are used in including pretrial settings, child welfare, the workplace, schools, credit evaluations, suicide risk, medical settings, and life insurance. This is an important read. I challenge all my social work colleagues to explore what automated decision making tools are prevalent in your settings and interrogate them using some of the ideas that are represented in this piece.
- Learn about San Francisco’s remarkable move towards reparations towards Black residents of the city. These are important steps and dialogues towards an anti-racist future.
- Ran across this helpful and disturbing bibliography by scholars Dr. Darius Green and Gene Dockery generously shared online called “Cyberracism.” Worth a look. Technology is abundant in places where racism persists and mutates – fortunately there are brilliant folks working on this every day. Social work needs to be active, engaged and leading in this space.
- Really fun comic about the work of Dr. Joy Buolamwini and her work with the Algorithmic Justice League fighting bias in AI.
The future of professions
- Regular readers of this blog will recall that a few year ago, I got to attend the “Exponential Medicine” conference which was a life changing experience. I wrote about it here. This year’ conference is going on now (the first one since coming back from the pandemic), and you can glance at the agenda here. The conference has changed its name to “Next Med Health.” Many of the sessions are available on YouTube – and these sessions bring some of the brightest minds in the world together to explore the future of medicine -and the ways that doctors and nurses will be working. Ideas explored in these spaces have many implications for what social workers of the future will do and how we will operate. There are many mind-bending sessions.
- DoNotPay, the “Robot Lawyer” is being Sued. In a not surprising sign of the times…we are not exactly settled in the ways in which robot professionals will be operating in the future of our shared world.
- Almost half of all public health workers left their jobs over the past year. Not a lot needs to be said here, but it boggles the mind to think about the increasing needs ahead with the potential of a decreasing health workforce. This is deeply concerning for the future of our health systems. I don’t believe I’ve seen numbers on how many social workers have left the workforce…but I’m scanning. If anyone knows, please do share.
- What are the artists doing? This is a question I ALWAYS ask in any foresight work I engage in. Artists so often are messengers reflecting worlds ahead. Here’s an overview of an emerging project exploring AI and responsible design (sponsored by Mozilla). Worth a look.
- What’s on my bookshelf right now? I keep gathering some great titles…looking forward to diving in soon and will provide some reviews in the coming year.