New Words in Futuring – Emerging Vocabulary for Social Workers #7 – August 15, 2019

My explorations of late have resulted in another of my “occasional” posts related to emerging terminology from the futures world. You can glance at the other entries here.

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.

Design Fictionemergent discipline related to use of narrative and story to provide structures, supports, challenges and provocative possibilities to guide human thinking towards a range of futures. Creative, disruptive and dynamic…this is a really interesting and helpful set of people, practices, and literature-based methods that have deep roots in the futures world. Of course it has deep connections to the world of science fiction…but is more likely to be explicitly engaged in futures practice than exclusively delivered as a work of “art.” Here’s a helpful overview and “how to” piece. It’s connected to and a variation of “speculative design” working in some of the same spaces. I’m imagining how these techniques could help us imagine futures of social welfare and/or social problems that might expand the range of creative possibilities we might discover/consider as a result of said explorations! MIT Media Lab has a whole project dedicated to this approach . Or as is evidenced by Afrofuturism (which I’ve written about previously on this blog…), these methods open deep possibilities for deepening our collective abilities to see, hear, and respect various identity-based expressions of possible futures.

Neuro-technology – perhaps you’ve been hearing about this via the Elon Musk story about his goal of linking a human brain to the internet? While experts agree it is not yet ready for prime time, the mere fact that it is getting this much press says much about our curiosity and eagerness to explore more of what is possible in this space. So too, does this possibility inspire neuroethicists to converge on the topic (appropriately and just in time) to help us all figure out how to wrap our minds around (pardon the expression) what an ethical application of this possibility might be. Here are a few pieces I found that bring this topic to life in some interesting ways.

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.

Update from previous entries in this series:

Fourth Industrial Revolution – I have covered this in a previous entry in this series – but here’s a terrific new and very clear/well-written article defining this complex and important topic.

Download from The Future of Nursing Meeting at the National Institute of Medicine/Science/Engineering, July 30, 2019 – Washington,D.C.

What happens when a prestigious foundation brings together nursing experts from across the United States, mixes representatives from other related fields, and invites an internationally well-known futurist to guide them through some brave and complex thinking and exploring about the future of the nursing profession? Well…I got to find out last week when I was invited to participate in exactly this opportunity in Washington, DC.

This event was part of a multi-year engagement in exploring, amplifying, strengthening and preparing the profession of nursing for the future – co-sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and numerous other nursing education and practice leader groups. You can read some of the national consensus panel work that preceded this gathering here.

Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist, a Professor of Strategic Foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business, and Executive Director/Founder of the Future Today Institute in NYC, who has written numerous books on complex futures topics – one of which I reviewed here in this blog (The Big Nine). Another of her notable books is called “The Signals are Talking” which was used for this meeting. This book is very much a primer on futures thinking and her method for actively preparing for it. She notes that “forecasting the future requires a certain amount of mental dexterity,” (p.34). Amy describes the futures field as one that is interdisciplinary and “combines mathematics, engineering, art, technology, economics, design, history, geography, biology, theology, physics, and philosophy,” (p. 10). If you are not familiar with her annual “Tech Trends” report – now in it’s 12th year, you will want to explore this broad and dynamic resource. It is truly fascinating how emerging technologies are most likely to impact our shared future (sometimes in unexpected ways) – and positions/challenges all of us to push for ethical and reasonable evolution in these spaces. If you’d like to watch her in action, you can do so here! “The Signals are Talking” is a textbook on her method which includes six steps: 1) Find the fringe (which are the spaces where changes are most likely initially occurring), 2) Use CIPHER to uncover patterns (contradictions, inflections, practices, hacks, extremes and rarities), 3) As the right questions, 4) Calculate the ETA, 5) Create scenarios and strategies, and 6) Pressure-test your actions. These comprise the building blocks of a facilitated group process which mapped to our day.

Of particular interest to me is Amy’s approach to organizing how to look for and begin to map trends and “signals” about change that is in the air and in motion…and how they may impact the issue you care about and/or interact with one another to create additional ripples of change. This is a handout which lays out these “disruptive sectors” – and I thought quite helpful in organizing our thinking about all the intersecting factors that drive change in the world around us.

The purpose of this gathering was to invite a broad array of key informants to widen and deepen the collective imagination and intelligence to advance and elevate the future of nursing. Our day was spent in small and large group dialogue in which we mapped out relevant signals potentially impacting the future of the nursing profession in all of these areas.

Just a few of the questions we considered included:

  • What are the social determinants of health that will help decide future well-being?
  • What are the new challenges to achieving equitable access to quality healthcare within the next 10-20 years?
  • Who will be involved (other professions or sectors)? How will roles and expectations change (specifically nurses, physicians, and community health workers)?

We were encouraged to map out all kinds of strong and/or weak signals about possible connections and impacts to what nursing practice may look like in the future. Once we were done with this, we used these maps to identify those we thought were most compelling and then, using a method Amy shared with us (identifying axes of uncertainty related to economic shifts, technological progress, social changes and/or politics/activism), strategically create scenarios based on these insights to imagine even deeper possibilities and unexpected turns. As she said, we were trying to “see around corners” in our collective effort. Many fascinating possibilities were identified and created in our shared space. Folks were literally “all over the map” (a good thing!!!) in terms of which they thought were more and less likely to occur – and why – but that was part of the beauty of this process. We were navigating lots of uncertainty and disruption in the way we perceived what kinds of things might happen next in the nursing ecosystem – technology, politics, advances in practice – and emergence of new and more complex health challenges to name a few. We were literally building a shared sense of collective intelligence as we debated and navigated these conversations. It felt productive and definitely got to several levels deeper than typical, more superficial “conference chat.”

After spending time considering some of our scenarios, we were invited to prioritize those we most desired collectively – and used a technique called backcasting to think through what kind of strategies would most valuable to achieve this set of aspirations, being mindful of how many disruptions were likely along the way. We were attentive to the risks of the undesirable scenarios as well…and the degree to which we might have to also consider preparing to defend and/or strategize against them too.

The ideas developed from this day will be used by Amy and others involved in this effort – from RWJF and the Institute of Medicine Consensus Panel leadership – to write a follow up report to guide their ongoing work and planning.

It was a most interesting day. It was a valuable experience – and was terrific to get to see/meet/learn from Amy directly after being such a fan of her work from afar. She’s super smart and delightful!!! Grateful to have participated!! Can’t wait to share many of these lessons with my fellow social work folks!! Let’s build a better future!!

Thanks Amy and RWJF!

Bonus new term to me: Exponential Medicine. This is how futurists in medicine talk about what they are doing. They have an annual conference to share the broad range of what is happening – you can explore more about it here.

A Futures Lens for the Addictions Treatment Field – Presentation from the August 7, 2019 Regional Opiate Summit in Vancouver, Washington

It was my pleasure to share my futures work with colleagues who work in the addictions field from across our region this past week. As promised, I’m sharing my slides! Please access them here! Note that the page about technology and the future of mental health care from the National Institute of Mental Health I mentioned can be accessed here. Also of interest on my blog are additional links to work I’ve done in related topics here, here and here.

Please follow along and join the coversation – you can do so here and/or find me on Twitter @lauranissen. It was great spending the morning with you this week!!

New Words in Futuring – Emerging Vocabulary for Social Workers #6

Words are fun aren’t they? You may recall that as I gather up some vocabulary that is new to me in my “futures” journeys…I put together a periodic post about them. (You can see the other posts along these lines here.) New ways of thinking involve new terms that stretch our sense of what is possible and introduces us to new ways to be in the world, take action, resist and function in all that is evolving. Here’s a new batch I’ve been gathering as I study!

AnthropoceneIn short, it refers to a new era where humanity has impacted the earth’s storyline in an irreversible way. While it doesn’t suggest we are defeated…those who seek to name this “new” period in the earth’s life cycle, alert us to the very real risks and dangers this new phase involves.

Critical futures studiesEndeavors to reveal political and power relations embedded inside of futures studies. This type of futures inquiry involves deconstruction and unpacking of texts, meanings, and embedded or hidden control systems in terms of who “decides” what the future will be and who is silenced in that process.

Culture jamming“Culture jamming is an intriguing form of political communication that has emerged in response to the commercial isolation of public life.”

De-Growthcontemporary movement initiated in Europe focused on anti-capitalist, anti-materialist and anti-development aspirations and vision.

Protopian Futures – Compared to utopian futures, which many suggest are too unattainable, protopian futures are gradually and incrementally getting better on purpose. Think of the word “prototype” – we try things and if they work we grow them. But we understand that not everything we try will work…and we have to make space for experimenting (ethically) with new possibilities.

Solastalgia – compared to “nostalgia,” or the longing for days gone by, solastalgia is a word that relates to the psychic pain associated with human realization (and to a certain extent feelings of helplessness) associated with climate change.

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.

Bonus: 17 Top Tech Buzzwords You Need to Know

12 New Tech Terms You Need to Know to Understand the Future

Climate Change, Environmental Justice and Mental Health: Social Work Essentials

In recent posts, I’ve shared a lot of explorations regarding futures topics that I think will be most meaningful for future-facing social workers including artificial intelligence ideas as they intersect with social work, algorithmic bias, transparency and justice, and mental health technology and ethics.

But of course no real exploration of futures topics most impacting the practice of social work in the years to come would be complete without a thorough look into current literature related to climate change.

Climate change as it relates to mental health and environmental justice are essential aspects of futures- and foresight-oriented social work practice. Social workers and social work education has long been committed to including this topic in our “canon” of focal areas, and issues of climate well-being are increasingly topics faced, discussed and included in social work practice and research. This effort has recently culminated in inclusion of climate change-anchored research and practice in the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative. And yet, though we’d all agree this is an urgent and relevant issue…have we gone far enough to assure that climate change competencies become part of how we think, research, collaborate and practice? What might be involved in going even further to assure that social work maximizes our impact in this space?

One of my most central reference points in this area, has been the work of Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice.” I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak a few times. If you are not familiar with his work, I highly recommend a deep dive. You can start here. This link will take you to a long-form lecture that Dr. Bullard did recently.

These are sobering areas of study – yet in each area there is reason to hope. Against the odds, there are scholars, activists and communities who actively seek to redirect the climate change trajectory from one of destruction, to one of revitalization and healing using a wide variety of strategies and tactics. As is said frequently within the futures practice world – the future is open, not fixed – and what we do now still very much matters. No where is this more true than related to the issue of climate change.

Whether it’s helping to de-code and assist people in naming and surviving in the face of climate change, or putting new levels of energy to bear in reversing and/or stopping climate change, this is another particularly urgent area of deep learning and relevance for social workers who have an eye towards the future!

As is my practice, I organized recent literature on this topic. For those that might wish to join me on a quick tour of “what’s new” in these combined area of practice (climate change as it relates to mental health – and – environmental justice) – you can link to the annotated bibliography and sector scan here. It is always in development. My goal is to boost the degree to which social workers can benefit from the best emerging information available. Let’s put it to good use and protect each other and our planet!