Gathering Resources for the Launch of the national Social Work Health Futures Lab!

In just a few weeks, we’ll be doing a (delayed) launch of the national Social Work Health Futures Lab due to Covid-19 (like so many).

Although we have been busy getting things ready behind the scenes for months – our official start is a little later than intended. In preparation for those wishing to get involved/apply – I’ve pulled some futures-oriented creative thinking resources together to stimulate idea building! Stay tuned for more to come – but in the mean time – please explore (most of these have appeared on this website in the 18 months, but have been revised for this entry). Watch this space for news and announcements including the launch a new Social Work Health Futures website and application process.

What if social workers – dedicated to improving well-being and health in all its forms – were futurists? What would we do? How would we do it? What tools, techniques, theories or frameworks would we use? How would we balance the so often urgent needs we encounter and are often responsible for addressing – with longer term horizons and a deep responsibility to not only react to current events, but to work in community to shape a better future for all?

Soon, we’ll have a chance to explore these questions and many more. For now – dive in and think about your own social work practice. What is the future of (your) area of focus? Who gets to decide that? What is the future of social work itself?

Looking forward to continuing to learn together and building what comes next.

The future of health equity – a curated annotated bibliography

Short films to boost your futures literacy

Governments using/adopting foresight and futures frameworks

New words in futuring: Alphabet of futures thinking

Covid-19 specific


A social work futurist goes to a future of medicine conference – download

Big ideas for future thinking – social change palooza!

Epistemic injustice tools and ideas for better futures

Ethics round up

Police abolition: A futures lens

Organizations doing futures/foresight work

Webinars/Interviews – Laura Nissen and social work futures

Social Work and the Future in a Post-Covid 19 World: A Foresight Lens and a Call to Action for the Profession – Article by Laura Nissen

Futures in Social Work – Summer 2020 Reading List!

There is a lot going on in the world and plenty to think about regarding the past, present and the future – and the ways they all intersect in very real ways right now. I salute and support important reading that we can all benefit from doing this summer regarding race and equity – and many fine lists have surfaced in recent weeks.

Numerous readers of this blog, have also asked for a “futures favorite” reads that explore topics especially relevant to social work and social change activities. So as promised, I prepared one here! These intertwine issues of power, imagination, equity, social determinants of health, identity, race and economic justice – as well as the role of technology, climate, the economy and other social drivers undergoing rapid transformation in the world around us.

These are my “top twelve” at the moment. If you’d like a deeper dive into other ideas of things to read/explore, I’d invite you to other posts in this blog related to readings.

Afrofuturism – Amplifying Black Futures and Voices: A Resource for Change Workers

Billboard by artist Alisha B. Wormsley, on display in Detroit, Michigan for the exhibition Manifest Destiny curated by Ingrid LaFleur at the Library Street Collective – Originally published here.

This post is intended to acquaint readers, change workers and fellow social workers to Afrofuturism. While it remains as important as ever to learn about antiracism in the here and now*…a futurist perspective would suggest that futures thinking/practice can give a fresh view, new energy, new perspectives and new possibilities for both problems and solutions in the present day. These resources are gathered and offered with gratitude and respect to the Afrofuturists collected to expand our thinking and our practices. This is an evolving post – so updates may follow.

Consider this as jumping off points! Dr. Lakeya Cherry – Social Workers – Allies for Justice? (2020), Dr. Ibram X. Kendi – An Anti-Racist Reading List (2019), Rachel Garlinghouse – Stop Asking People Of Color To Explain Racism–Pick Up One Of These Books Instead (2020).

Afrofuturism can connect the problems we experience now with the past, our current reality and futures yet to be determined, but vibrant, living and robust.

“The liberated futures we want don’t exist as untouchable distant points out of our reach. When we focus on collective action, mutual aid, self-determination, centering the leadership of the marginalized, we defy linear time. We pull those futures into the present. Let’s keep pulling the liberated futures into the present over and over again, until that’s all there is.” Walidah Imarisha

What is Afrofuturism?

Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens. The term was conceived a quarter-century ago by white author Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future,” which looks at speculative fiction within the African diaspora. (Broadnax, 2018). It is also considered an epistemology and encapsulates a liberatory connection of the history of Black thought, knowledge and artistic production from the past to re-imagined futures (Alondra Nelson).

This framework inspires deep and imaginative possibilities for other ways of thinking, operating and interacting with the world. It challenges “whiteness,” colonialism, heteropatriarchy and other “isms” by intentionally operating beyond them. By creatively expanding assumptions, boundaries and histories – Afrofuturism creates new kinds of possibility spaces and power. These very kinds of spaces are essential in generating post-normal solutions to contemporary challenges – and are guided by Black voices and imaginations.

This is an update and revision of an earlier post created last April, 2019.

In addition, since the original posting of this information, I’ve also found an MSW Thesis from social worker, Kayla Huddleston, MSW entitled Afrofuturism as Applied to Self-Perception: an Experimental Vignette Study which appears to be the first use of these frames in social work. It’s a terrific piece worth exploring – and it will inspire creative thinking about what might be possible.

Readings in Popular Media

Degrowing the future (2020)

How Black women are reshaping Afrofuturism – Open Democracy (2020)

How Black women are reshaping Afrofuturism – YES Magazine (2020)

What does the Afrofuture say? (2020)

Is Afrofuturism the answer to our current crisis (2019)

A beginner’s guide to Afrofuturism (2019)

This is Afrofuturism (2018)

Four thoughts on the future of Afrofuturism (2018)

Six Afrofuturist artists to watch that explore the modern African diaspora (2018)

What the heck is Afrofuturism? (2018)

Afrofuturism: A language of rebellion (2018)

Afrofuturism: Why Black science fiction can’t be denied (2018)

Octavia Butler’s legacy, impact and Afrofuturism celebrated (2016)

Afrofuturism: Reimagining science the future from a Black perspective (2015)


What does the Afrofuture say? (Interviews with contemporary Afrofuturists) (2020)

***GREAT PLACE TO START!!! Princess Weekes teaches Afrofuturism 101 in a new episode of “It’s Lit.” (2020)

Octavia Butler – Why you should read the Afrofuturist legend Octavia Butler (2019)

Lonny Brooks – Afrofuturism (2019)

Lonny Brooks and Jason Tester – Imagining Queer Futures with an Afrofuturist Perspective (2019)

Nnedi Okorafor – Sci Fi stories that imagine a different Africa 2017 (Designates as “AfricanFuturism” – not Afrofuturism.)

Ytasha Womack – Afrofuturism, imagination and humanity

Michael Bennett, Ytasha Womack, Wale Oyedije, and Aisha Harris – Afrofuturism: Imagining the future of Black identity 2015

Film and Music

8 Afrofuturist classics everyone needs to hear (2018)

Exploring where Afrofuturism in film: Where sci fi and mythology blur (2018)

What to watch after Black Panther: An Afrofuturism primer (2018)


Coronavirus and crisis and Afrofuturism: A way to envision what’s possible despite injustice and hardship (2020)

Afrofuturist Podcast

This American Life episode exploring Afrofuturism (2017). (Thanks Dr. Felicia Murray!).

Academic Literature

Oxford Afrofuturism Bibliography (2017)

Academic Coursework

Afrofuturism course overviews from Kalamazoo CollegeUniversity of California RiversideDuke University, andUniversity of Chicago

Organizations/Think Tanks

Afrofutures Strategies Institute

Black Quantum Futurism

Afrofuturist Society

An Incomplete List of Afrofuturists to Follow (Alphabetical Order)

Toni Adeyemi

Reynaldo Anderson

Lonny Brooks

Adrienne Maree Brown

Walidah Imarisha

Alondra Nelson

Rasheeda Phillips

Nnedi Okorafor (Designates as “AfricanFuturism” – not Afrofuturism.)

Ytasha Womack

Ethics and a Social Work Futures Lens

In response to many questions during my recent presentations on the future of social work for the National Network for Social Work Management, I received a significant number of questions regarding the social work code of ethics and how to learn about and/or get involved in efforts to revise the NASW code of ethics. I reached out to incoming President of NASW, Dr. Mit Joyner, and she responded with the following note. With respect and appreciation, I share this information to encourage all social workers to get involved and help create the future you’d like to see for social work.

“NASW has numerous committees that monitor and update the NASW Code of Ethics.

 Just as CSWE monitors the Curriculum Policy Statement via a mandated review every 8 years; NASW has a similar process for review of all policies by the Delegate Assembly that occurs every three years. The DA is a representative, decision-making body through which NASW members set broad organizational policy, establish program priorities, and develop a collective stance on public and professional issues.
The Delegate Assembly is comprised of 220 elected volunteer delegates, including the National Board of Directors. In addition, the NASW CEO and executive directors from each chapter are nonvoting delegates, making a total of 277 delegates.  

Again the Delegate Assembly meets once every three years and approves all policies published in Social Work Speaks. The National Bylaws state: “The membership shall act through the Delegate Assembly in all matters except as otherwise provided in the Bylaws.”  Delegate assembly members are volunteers so I would encourage anyone who is interested in participation to first join NASW and then run as a delegate to represent their local NASW chapter. 

Again in response to your email, NASW as member association ensures that the NASW Code of Ethics is constantly reviewed and updated by the membership.   Last major revision occurred in 2017 and was implemented in 2018. 

NASW’s next  Delegate Assembly Meeting in November 2020 and will considered new recommendations.  Those recommendations are currently being discussed and reviewed by the NASW membership prior to being voted on during the delegate assembly that is set for November. 

In summary, yes NASW has an opportunity for member engagement to review all policies including the code, yes the NASW Code of Ethics is a living document that is revised after input from social work members (last major revision 2018), and yes there is an established process via the Delegate Assembly, and yes we would love for other social workers to promote and engage in this vital work  and yes individual social workers  can lead the review by serving  as an elected delegate.”

2018 NASW Code of Ethics

Article from The New Social Worker Fall 2017 covering the most recent changes to the social work code of ethics.

NASW resources for understanding the new social work code of ethics

Two Upcoming Opportunities to Talk Futures with Me!! (Updated July 13, 2020 with link to the finished webinars)

Note: Links to completed webinars have now been added below! It has been a very busy season after being a very strange time. Like so many…life got very slow, and then it seemed to speed up all at once. As the springtime gets into full swing and we are all adjusting to new Covid-19 realities, there is much interest in futures-related topics. The future is definitely here. Opportunities to learn and engage with futures thinking are plentiful – and many are discovering the benefits to a futures lens as we enter what is hopefully a recovery and reconstruction towards a post-covid 19 world.

In then the next couple of weeks – I’ll be doing a couple of open and free national presentations on how social work might be part of that, and wanted to share them in this space.

This coming Tuesday, May 19 (at 9 a.m. PST), I’ll be interviewed by Kathi Vian, Futurist with the Institute for the Future and one of my mentors in futures work. I’ll be talking about both the new project that I’m doing to build futures thinking capacity in social work, as well as my work with my Portland State University Futures Collaboratory on an interdisciplinary campus-wide futures project. This is a free “Foresight Talks” webinar and you can find out more and register for that here. Link to finished webinar!

On May 21st, May 28th & June 4th, I’ll be doing a series of three webinars for the National Network for Social Work Management on futures thinking in social work. These were intended to be “in person” sessions and a keynote at the spring NNWSM conference in New York City – but like so many good things – it has gone online. All of these sessions are 10-11:30 a.m. PST. Link to finished webinars!

Webinar 1: Futures thinking for post-normal times: A new resource for social work

Webinar 2: The process of foresight: How futures practice can enhance social work practice

Webinar 3: Evolving on purpose: Possibility spaces for the future of social work and social justice

You can read more of the details and register for these free sessions here!

Hope you can join in!!

Evolving General Futures/Foresight Resources on Covid-19 – April 10, 2020

I have received a number of requests to share an interdisciplinary cross-sector version of my futures covid-19 resource list (beyond social work) – so have developed a specific version that just contains three sections (Link here):

  1. Futures thinking during the Covid-19 chapter
  2. Scenarios for the future – what happens next
  3. Impact of pandemics on history

If you’re interested in the more indepth resource list specific to social work, public health and human rights you can still access that link here. These resources are updated regularly.

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.