Exploring how social workers can increase their impact through futures frameworks – All content developed by Laura Burney Nissen, Ph.D., LMSW, CADCIII, Portland State University School of Social Work, Portland, Oregon, USA
This is a regular blog post that I do to simply round up some signals that I see go by on Twitter and think might be of interest to my fellow travelers interested in topics related to social work, health, human rights, community well-being, higher education and other related topics.
Learn to Think Like a Futurist with IFTF and Coursera!!
The Institute for the Future is declaring the year 2020 the year of the future. In a beautiful and generous effort to “democratize the future” they are offering FREE futures/foresight training through Coursera. Check it out here!! This is information that has fueled my journey – IFTF has some of the inspiring folks globally teaching and guiding. Join in the adventure!!!
There is a new app called “Change Ed” that is promising to “revolutionize” student loan debt. Interesting idea – and good to see some innovation on this topic. Is this an answer? Not clear. Here’s another bit of media coverage. Much more needs to be explored. Worth a look.
There is a steady stream of news coverage exploring, imagining and predicting various futures of higher education. Here’s a new one from Quartz on their take on the Future of College.
Communities and Tech
As readers know, I’m a big fan of efforts to help social workers become more tech savvy and tech enabled in ethical ways. But this article promotes the “importance of citizen data scientists and how to support them.” Democratizing the processes and associated power of understanding and using data for the well-being of all is a future I can get behind. How about you?
As I did a brief search of this, I found very little that was U.S. based – which is not to say it doesn’t exist, but advocacy, policy and other guidelines are more prominently featured internationally.
Tech Ethics and Guidelines
What if we taught human rights law to software engineers? This article suggests that would be an excellent way to embed key ethical principles and related capacity for human rights protections into the software development workforce and ecosystem.
This book came out in 2017 but I’m just learning about it. “Twitter and Tear Gas” is a book about how social media is simultaneously changing, expanding and impairing contemporary social movements. A growing body of knowledge is emerging to study and chronicle how social media is changing patterns, methods and results of new types of communication tools in social change work. This is an important reference.
Ran across this certificate program that focuses on preparing people to become “regenerative sustainability design” practitioners. I don’t know a lot about it yet – but I found their materials inspiring and creative. Worth a look!
Hello friends – there are A LOT of signals flying around these days. Growing, working and learning in the futures/foresight space is NEVER a dull moment!! Here’s some signals I’ve run across in the last month.
Machine learning has learned to see through walls and in darkness. As always – we ask questions of ourselves and each other…how will this kind of technology be used, who will drive this use, who will lose – and what will vulnerability mean with potential increased use of this kind of tech? More social workers at the table means our ethics are at the table…and some of these questions will be asked.
The Institute for the Future has a new report out called “Connected Living” about increasing use of “smart items” that continue to grow and multiply in the world around us. How will these trends potentially change the way that social work is practiced? Or how will it potentially impact the lives of vulnerable people? As usual, this is a terrific tool to use with students to inspire different kinds of questions – and expand what “human behavior in the social environment” might mean in the future.
Future of Government
The group Nesta (in the UK) has prepared a really interesting publication that explores issues of trust, viability of government and general “future of government” kinds of issues.
I ran across a recent issue of the Journal of Community Practice devoted to the topics of “Ecosocial” work and community practice. It includes a terrific and engaging collection of articles that are relevant for social workers focused on climate change-anchored practice.
I guess we all know it is a particularly challenging time to be alive. It can safely be said that every single social work colleague I know, has also reported that the load is heavy. Here’s an article from the publication “The Grist” that gives us a window on 50 young activists who are changing the world in some way. It is powerful. It is inspiring. Let’s help each other stay fueled…all our work matters!!
Should universities be preparing students for the gig economy? This article says yes. And though we may debate this issue intensely. Certainly there will be value in finding pathways where students see ways for themselves to succeed in the future. Even if we’re not inspired by the gig economy – few would argue that we need to help our students prepare for the way the changing world of work is unfolding.
Inside Higher Education did a great overview of the “critical digital education” world and noted that some of the most important voices on the topic are coming from outside of higher education. There is a list of names with links to explore more. Their point is that those within higher education institutions face many challenges to approaching the topic with sufficient disruptive sensibilities – and that may be part of why higher education continues to struggle to innovate.
I thought this was a super creative article called “Seven Ways to Die in the Future” which does what a really good piece of futures writing should do…made me curious, made me laugh, made me cringe and made me think! Check it out and see if you find yourself in any of these scenarios…think twice as you journey into the future!!
As we prepare to head towards the end of 2019, and gearing up for a couple of big projects related to this topic, I wanted to do a round up of various things I’ve collected on the future of work. Thought I’d share them for followers in case you’d like to explore in a more comprehensive format!
(This list will likely evolve with time! Not intended to be an exhaustive inventory – just good to have some ideas about how different schools approach this topic. Check back if you’re interested to see updates.)
Loved this particular article on augmented modernity. Thoughtful and creative provoking the reader to consider what kind of larger transition we are engaged in connected to technology and the role it plays in our life.
A couple of weeks ago, I did a tech round up on this blog, underscoring some of the most important ethical issues that are being debated right now in tech and science. This particular piece is a wonderful teaching tool…helping to empower students to “get to ethics” sooner as they move into the emerging workforce. How to interview a tech company? A guide for the ethically minded student
To celebrate my first “Blog-iversary” I thought I’d take the opportunity to reformat all of the emerging futures terminology I’ve gathered and shared in one place for easier access. I’ve heard from readers that this has been a helpful orientation to some useful cross-disciplinary ideas. I’ll likely keep adding to this as time goes on! Enjoy and share. We are more ready to build the future we want, if we keep learning together and widening our capacity to grow, shift, resist and/or create as the need arises!
Black Swan Theory. Based on the idea that unexpected and devastating events will always be part of life, and that in hindsight we can frequently see that we “should have” seen the signs leading up to it. Developed by theorist Nassim Taleb, this framework is a model to assist in guiding analysis of current events to help to predict future calamities.
Block chain. A block chain is a digital “distributed ledger” record of transactions which are called “blocks,” and which link together through use of cryptography, are date stamped, and which are resistant to modification once stamped.
Cyborg Anthropology. This is totally fascinating. Cyborg anthropology is the study of how technology is impacting and changing human behavior. This brief TED talk by Amber Case is really interesting and asks a simple question: “Are we already cyborgs?”
Here’s a great site that has collected and defined Cyborg Anthropology and does a good job of organizing topics by various areas of interest. Here’s an additional article and book on the subject (I just ordered it – very intrigued). I’m guessing this is an area of practice that is going to continue growing.
FAT (Fairness, Accountability and Transparency). This is the terminology utilized by a growing body of researchers, programmers and other concerned citizens, FAT encourages dialogue and practice regarding ethics in machine learning development. (Thanks to Lauri Goldkind for suggesting this term.)
Gamification. Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play (Wickipedia).
Geo-engineering. This terms is related to ways to slow down the deadly and destructive impact of climate change. This once purely science fiction-level set of ideas, but increasingly plausible proposed practices involve sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to trap less heat – and – reflecting sunlight away from the planet. These ideas are also referred to as carbon renewal or negative emissions technologies. You can learn more about it here.
Green Energy. Most probably – you already “know” this term, but since it is turning up a lot in the media (a good thing) with increasing interest and use, it might be a good opportunity to refresh yourself on the basics. It really is more than solar – good overview here.
Information Warfare/Disinformation Campaigns. Back in December of 2018, I shared a term called “computational propaganda” (scroll down) in this ongoing vocabulary list project that is related to the idea of the idea of a particular way of weaponizing false information internationally with significant geopolitical implications.
Given our commitment to democratic political engagement, and given the rise of concern and activity to understand these concepts and join many around the world who are actively resisting/fighting againstdisinformation (often led by journalism), this is an important issue for social workers to have foundational working knowledge about.
(Special note: I wish to underscore that I’m far from an expert on this topic, and the previous one on deepfakes…but seek to provide some beginning definitions as I’m learning about in this blog. Inclusion of information in these entries is not intended to imply endorsement of the content – rather to simply amplify a variety of ways of looking at and understand the issues so we can continue to learn and debate about these issues together. )
Panopticon. Actually an older concept of a form of architecture generally associated with prisons, that means everything can be “seen” at all times. Gradually coming into contemporary use associated with a society that is increasingly enacting digital surveillance. Here are a couple of pieces that drill down into this set of ideas. This concept has far reaching implications for social work practice…and the degree to which it is frequently argued that vulnerable populations are already more heavily (and frequently unfairly) surveilled more rigorously, multiplying their vulnerability and powerlessness. Truly – these ideas will impact all of us in so many ways.
Quantum Computing. What is the “next level” of computing and why does it matter? Folks at the deep end of the pool of technology are talking a lot about quantum computing and the almost beyond comprehensible things it can and might do. Get worried when the technology grows beyond our ability to understand it – and jump in with me and let’s try to learn more about it!! Here are a couple of pieces that attempt to make it accessible.
Ramp Education. This refers to the need to reskill massive numbers of workers who are most likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence. Deep questions persist about the fate and well being of potentially 32 million workers (according to some estimates) in the near future. This article (with embedded report) provides a road map.
Techno-optimist. In spite of the many kinds of bad news about the state of the world and the risks of losing ourselves to technological troubles – there are those among us, who generally feel pretty positive about the likelihood of technology to do more good than harm. They do have some guidelines though! And guess what, some folks want you to know this isn’t really a good idea. Their perspectives are here.
VUCA. Frequently used term in futures work and study associated with present ecosystemic conditions in society and various systems (economic, technological and civic). Specifically a “VUCA” world is one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Again, many important ideas connected to this – here’s a list for ease of access.
(This is an accepted proposal for an upcoming “TED”-type talk I’ll be giving at the Council on Social Work Education meeting in Denver on October 26, 2019.)
Ever get the feeling that the future is coming on faster than we can make sense of it? Do the challenges ever seem like they are multiplying? In some respects they are….but so are people, communities and possibilities for positive change that are tackling these challenges in intensely creative and future facing ways. Some suggest – our very survival as a planet depends on our ability to harness “the best” of who we are to navigate and co-create the future in new ways. The truth is, being “futures literate” is an acquirable skill…and while it doesn’t mean a person can predict (with absolute certainty) or control the future, it does mean that we can enter the future better prepared to deal with whatever comes. This practice is called “foresight” and it is being practiced all over the world. Foresight is being used in a variety of private and public sectors. It is a “big tent” community full of technologists, ethicists, scientists, artists, gamers, equity workers, inventors, engineers and policy wonks (to name a few). But social work is only beginning to explicitly engage with this body of knowledge and set of practices. While in many respects – everything we do in social work is implicitly “for the future” – there is so much more possible. Our value propositions, skills and tools as social workers can enhance futures practice – and futures practice can challenge us to think bigger across our profession. Come learn about the ideas, methods and fascinating world of this global community and practice that can build collective imagination, intelligence and agility to deepen our impact, increase our effectiveness and help to build the world we want to live in. Should every social worker be a futurist? YES. We belong and are much needed in this movement and in the future (as are the people and communities we work and stand with). Come learn more!!! Let’s build a better future.