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, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @lauranissen
This is part of a regular series of posts that track a few notable things I find on Twitter that reflect signals and/or futures thinking I think will be relevant to social workers and/or folks in higher education. I’m recalibrating this feature and will start a slightly different format where I just run through 10 things of value I come across. You can view previous posts in this series here.
(One) Of great interest in the future of tech world is the issue of facial recognition technology proliferation in cities. Portland, Oregon (my home town) just passed among the most rigorous facial recognition bans in the country. For social justice tech activists – this is a very good thing. Most agree that there are many more down sides and risks – all hinging on serious concerns about embedded and dangerous surveillance racism. You can read about it here, here and here is an ACLU statement about recent legislation introduced on the same issue at the national level. Here are a couple of other pieces that lay out a variety of important points too. This will continue to be an important space for social workers focused on human rights and urban planning to be active and attentive.
(Two) This is a really powerful and important article about how Covid-19 has revealed even deeper and more complex rifts in the digital divide in the world. “As the Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions to remain in their homes and restricted the capacity of public spaces, people have turned to online spaces to continue all forms of social interactions. However, despite being heralded as a means to overcome social inequalities, the new “digital public spaces” have continued these inequalities.” Increasingly, access to full participation in society is digital – how are social workers incorporating and accounting for this increasingly relevant and urgent issue? This article underscores that covid-19 has exacerbated this dynamic . Social workers will need to gain even more tools and skills to attend to this divide – and to advocate effectively for equitable access.
(Three) Will civic unrest escalate as the covid-19 and other equity movements continue in the coming months and years? A recent study which looked at 57 historic pandemics suggests that it will. It’s a thought provoking piece – and it says that uprisings have occurred more because of how those epidemics heightened social tensions. As our communities continue to work for change – there is clearly a sense of readiness for evolution.
(Four) New(ish) article about using virtual reality as a tool for behavioral health. This article discusses increasing availability of the technology, challenges and opportunities in integrating with behavioral health practice. This is a great piece for introducing VR to social workers and provides some helpful analysis of the practice ecosystem.
(Five) Numerous times in this blog, I’ve discussed items related to the future of the economy – globally and in the U.S., including topics such as “post-capitalism” and other emerging discourses. One of these is referred to as “de-growth.”This new article provides an indepth introductory look at this approach and offers it as a viable framework as an alternative to capitalism worth considering.
(Six) Dr. Jose Ramos is a favorite futures scholar – here’s a new piece related to yet more imagining of what Covid-19 will teach us and what might come next using the symbol of the chrysalis as a set of opportunties related to social transformation. It is a thoughtful and insightful set of ideas worth exploring. “We are living in Epic Times, historic times imbued with personal and collective meaning and logic. For each of us this story will be different, however we all have a part to play in the drama we see unfolding. Who we are, how we act, what we do, makes a difference. The era is calling forth new selves and new patterns from us. What does our world, its challenges and transition, want from us? What thinking, innovations, methods, feelings, movements? What could emerge from the Chrysalis?”
(Seven) Another writer I enjoy reading is Douglass Rushkoff (well often it aggravating but that is just because he does a good job of identifying the cracks in the machine…). This article is called “The Privileged Have Entered Their Escape Pods,” reminding us of grotesque inequality during the times of Covid-19 – and the absolute and total truth that we are definitely not all in this together. As noted previously in this post, such brutally apparent injustices through awful times are not sustainable and will likely increasingly be a point of focus in continuing dialogue about the future of democracy, community and equity. Here’s a point of reference regarding gross inequality regarding health outcomes from Covid-19.
(Eight) Well, how about the future of sex? Here’s a great little “TED” type talk with sex-tech expert Bryony Cole talking about how sexuality and the sociology/psychology of sexuality are changing in the modern world. This is relevant to social work explorations in the future of relationships, families and coupling.
(Nine). This past month, a new wonderful Afrofuturist volume of edited stories has been released. It’s called “Black Freedom Beyond Borders: Memories of Abolition Day.” It’s a powerful collection of stories set after police abolition has occurred with Afrofuturist sensibilities. There is a rich and insightful webinar that was part of the launch where various authors read their work. You can see it here and download the entire book for free here. It is inspiring!
(Ten) This article is called “The world deserves a good ancestor: Will you be one?” Using the frame of colonization the author offers: “Humankind has colonized the future. We treat it like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people where we can freely dump ecological degradation, technological risk and nuclear waste – as if nobody will be there.” Building on the harms from other colonization This frame powerfully accentuates the need to consider power and responsibility to future generations. This image is included in the piece and speaks volumes.
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.
This is part of a regular series of posts that track a few notable things I find on Twitter that reflect signals and/or futures thinking I think will be relevant to social workers and/or folks in higher education. You can view previous posts in this series here.
To say it has been an unusual couple of months would be the understatement (literally) of the century. Numerous voices have described our times as the reckoning with the “dual pandemics” – covid 19 and racialized violence at the hands of the police.
This entry begins with an overview of the current crisis of racialized police violence – through a futures lens. (Previous posts have provided extensive information specifically related to a futures and/or social work perspective on covid-19.)
This is an enormously important time for the social work profession as it debates, explores and considers the ethical and practical dimensions of how to practice in a way that truly contributes to a future of equity and racial justice. I support the dialogue and believe we are on the verge of some incredibly deep revisions and transitions in how we think about and practice “public safety” in the years to come. I would suggest that these debates and dialogues as deep developmental spaces for our entire social work enterprise…and I believe that a futures lens could help to inform and guide these dialogues to new places not only to reconcile the past and the present, but what vitally important emergent issues (like the drum and expansion of surveillance technology) absolutely MUST be considered when forming a change and equity agenda for the years to come.
A futures perspective would assert that considering not only the past and the present is necessary, but what is emergent and what may be just beyond the range of our ability to observe is equally important. In her book “Race Against Technology,” author and scholar Ruha Benjamin suggests that technology is accelerating a kind of policing that doesn’t necessarily involve actual human police – but rather algorithms, surveillance and acceleration in related infrastructure as commerce and entwined in governmentality that should be of great concern to human rights and equity advocates. Other scholars such as Safiya Umoja Noble have already extensively noted the deep racism embedded the way that the internet functions – and influencing a number of related emerging technologies. They symbolize that simply “increasing” or “decreasing” the number of police or amount of funding in an of itself will not necessarily change the trend of over-policing via technology, just as it is not possible to make technological systems “race neutral” at will without deep and significant examination and exposure of the race-related power dynamics that are too often embedded into emerging technologies. The idea of “digital policing” is a very real and emergent part of the evolution of the way law enforcement is conceptualized, along with other technological deployment. The very real emergence of artificial intelligence in the policing space involves a very particular set of risks and concerns. Issues such as the growth of and related equity concerns related to facial recognition technologies exemplify and illustrate these complexities that should be of concern to social workers, as well as to society at large.
For my part, I continue to watch, with admiration, entirely new ways of approaching justice such as the commitment that Austrailia has just made to a “truth and justice process” concerning recognition of ongoing injustices against Aboriginal people. I continue to imagine what such a process might look like here in the U.S. and what a future might look like in which creative and transformational work of this nature might be like.
These discourses have huge implications for a number of large systems where social workers practice and underscore the importance of us being ready for new challenges and new forms of old problems as we continue and evolve our profession. Being “future ready” means that we gain the knowledge, skills and ethics to positively impact not only the social problems and challenges in front of us but those that are around the corner. Ideologies both of policing and of futuring must be unpacked and democratized in new ways…now and tomorrow.
Covid-19 and the Future
This is a really thoughtful and interesting piece about the speed at which covid-19 is expanding the creativity and imaginations of humanity in the midst of the pandemic. Author Kim Stanley Robinson says: “What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.”
This article is a creative take on how cities may continue to evolve to meet the challenges of covid-19 and beyond.
Another great take on the pros and cons of futures thinking (and its variations – some of which are more corporatized than others) comes from Dr. Devon Powers. This piece carefully and thoughtfully navigates the meaningful from the fluff of futures thinking and discourse.
This article asks the provocative question “who owns your face?” I’ve been in a number of futures sessions in which the idea of “copyrighting your own face” has come up partially in jest, and partially seriously. It introduces the reader to the world of “data brokerage,” and though the piece is a couple of years old now, it is even more relevant now. The ongoing complexity with which our personal data moves beyond what is visible should be considered by social workers as part of our reading and understanding of the contemporary ecosystem we live and work. This is especially relevant to people and communities who have been exploited and/or marginalized.
Here’s another of these thought-provoking lists of “ways technology will change the world by…” (insert year here…). I must confess I always click on them… Generally I find their value in groups (the end/beginning of the year is always a good time for a fresh batch) and like to try to get a “meta-sense” of what they are revealing as a group. This particular list is more thoughtful and imaginative than most – though in no way complete or exhaustive. Important note: Sometimes these types of lists can be heavy on the “used” or “official” futures (those futures suggested by powerful entities pushing a particular agenda aligned with economic or political forces). That is always a risk. My own commitment as a futurist, as is the case with many futurists I admire and follow, is to go deeper to uncover ideas and images of the future that may be emergent, uncomfortable, complicated and not necessarily easily managed by the market or dominant political forces. Of course, as a social worker I have many questions, and they all revolve around these core concepts: Who will decide if these futures come to pass, who will win and lose in these types of futures, etc.? All that said, as I continue to invite folks to consider the future either in social work or interdisciplinary spaces – with these provisos, this is the kind of list that can be great fun and very useful to unleash some bigger and unbounded thinking. This is particularly true when working with students.
Here’s a wonderful piece about a speculative imagination project led by Olalekan Jeyifous and an Afrofuturist turn for Brooklyn, New York.
Futurist Vanessa Mason shares this creative and lively post about the importance of imagination to move through the dual pandemics of covid-19 and racism in our world to build toward the future we collectively want. (Note – she includes a terrific shout out to Columbia University Social Work Professor Dr. Courtney Cogburn and her VR Film “The 1000 cut journey.”)
Note: I just had the privilege of finishing up the Institute for the Future’s Design Futures course last week. It was fantastic for many reasons – I’ll be doing a post soon to do a download. You can find out more about the training here. Special respectful shout out to trainers Dr. Jake Dunagan and Jacques Barcia. Learned a lot and have so many ideas about how to engage social work in some “next level” creativity in our thinking and our work vis a vis these tools and ideas.
Systems Science, Chaos and Complexity
This article does a fine job of reviewing these important concepts – not only essential knowledge for futures work but increasingly relevant for cutting edge macro social work.
In a slightly different but important and creative turn, I found this piece by Dr. Deepa Iyer to be a wonderful overview of “social change roles.” It both acknowledges the complexity and range of roles that communities of change agents might use to best arrange their resources to best achieve their objectives.
Universal Basic Income – Getting Ready
Covid-19 has caused more discourse and consideration of UBI than at any other time in recent history. This article is a good review of some of the fundamental issues and complications. It even considers some cryptocurrency possibilities as part of its coverage. Could it happen? Not clear yet…but if it could…social work might well be part of making it so, and making it work. Another interesting initiative (connected to previous U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang) is called the Data Dividend Project which aims to use class action law to develop direct payments to individuals based on large scale use of data by a number of well-known corporations. I’m not endorsing (haven’t studied it deeply enough to do so yet) but in general I find the spirit behind this kind of thing relevant and fascinating.
Crip Technoscience Manifesto
As I’ve had the pleasure of attending a variety of futures gatherings the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from many medical and technology experts seeking to find cures and/or restore life and functioning from a wide variety of degenerative diseases, conditions or injuries. It is a truly fascinating time to be alive to see the ways that technology can intersect with human need. That said, it is also very complicated to assess who decides what should or should not be considered a disability, what corrective or restorative solutions should be available or what they should be like. I recently ran across this article (Crip Technoscience Manifesto) and it seemed a really important part of ethical and critical framing of these kinds of issues. Through its centering of power and voice of people living with and experiencing disabilities as an essential element – I found it both incredibly inspiring as well as useful in navigating how to think about, interrogate and move among a great deal of activity happening in this space.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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):
Futures thinking during the Covid-19 chapter
Scenarios for the future – what happens next
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.
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.
Today, right now, we are living in a scenario that we didn’t exactly expect to be living in.
Though in truth – in social work, we have long known and worked in…a world that was precarious. We have long known how vulnerable too many people, families, and institutions are. And in good faith, we’ve done our best to make things better as best we could. Now we enter a new chapter. And our social work capacity will grow and change in ways we can’t yet predict.
Now is a time to embrace and consider futures thinking with a rigor that will feel new for many in our profession – but it exactly the skills of foresight (for example – considering the role of history in revealing patterns we are part of, building scenarios that reflect multiple pathways and the various courses of action we might take, building community to read and understand signals amid what may feel like chaos, and finding some clarity despite volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) that help us navigate what is ahead. As social workers, I would add that we do all of this in a way that is conscious of equity, acknowledges the most vulnerable in our society, the human side of crisis, crisis response and recovery for whatever happens next.
We have no time to waste. Let’s dive in. Let’s bring all the knowledge and heart we’ve got to help our communities prepare, engage and acknowledge each other to move through and then heal from whatever covid-19 brings.
Social work is a profession that has a deep history and reservoir of knowledge, values and skills concerning human behavior and systems thinking. We can contribute so much to what is happening – but we owe it to ourselves and each other to commit to learning and in many cases, navigating new spaces, new challenges, new tools, opportunities and threats. For years I have told my students (as a social work professor) that even with all the good tools we provide in the social work education process, in their lifetimes, new challenges would emerge that we can’t yet see or predict. No matter how “prepared” we might think we are…we will learn AS WE WORK…with our ethics and principles leading the way. But also with courage and creativity to meet emergent challenges. I have never been more proud to be a social worker…and I am sure we can evolve to meet whatever comes.
This week, I started a hashtag on Twitter – #SWcovid19 to provide a place in that space for social workers around the world to gather, ask questions, tell stories, share information and credible news, and CONNECT on this emerging global challenge. If you haven’t popped in there yet – please do. Let’s continue to build community.
Further, I’ve been gathering up selected resources that I think will be of interest to social workers directly related to vulnerable populations we stand with and settings where social workers work as well issues (like human rights) that we are interested in/committed to. Link here! This will be an evolving list of resources as this is a rapidly changing situation. It is not intended to be a comprehensive lit review – just a real time capture of things I’ve been seeing go by that I think social workers will be interested in.