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 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.
It has been said, that we might as well be “starving at the banquet” of the information age.
So much to know, to decide, to act upon…with the stakes increasingly high to GET IT RIGHT. And yet…how are we doing learning together in our organizational contexts to prepare for these endeavors? How do we integrate good information, new trends, results of signal scanning and mapping? How do we calibrate a changing basis for the way we determine cause and effect in the increasingly complex world around us?
As often as not, so many report feeling mostly overwhelmed – with data, with information, with ideas…. How do we keep up with all there is to know for now, let alone how to prepare for what is next? How do we make sure that our plans and actions are not merely “reactions” to what is happening around us, or the result of our fears, but rather the result of the collective learning that we are each engaged in? How can this knowledge we are generating be better pooled, organized, and focused for the good of all? Does this result in both power and agility? I would strongly suggest that it does. And commitment to boosting our organizational learning, as well as our commitment to communities of practice, can help us get there.
Along the way of learning about, and working with groups and organizations about future readiness, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the loosely related topics of “learning organizations” and “communities of practice” are essential concepts and frameworks for our success moving forward. Yet surprisingly, there is an absence of urgency in the way we talk about it – almost as if these ideas are luxuries rather than keys to competitive advantage or successful community building (depending on your perspective).
The truth is the way we learn together needs to be revised to afford us the kind of capacity, creativity and energy that is needed to result in the necessary agility required by the future and what’s required to succeed in the “VUCA” world.
This is true of both of the organizational settings I’m most connected to – social work practice in both private and public settings, as well as across higher education.
There is truly pressure on everyone to “plan strategically” for what comes next. I would suggest that every bit as important as planning can be – equally important is to focus, amplify, reinforce and strengthen the ways that we seek, consume, share and apply what we are learning. This includes “sharing the learning load” and “cognitive overwhelm” we are all experiencing by organizing ourselves better not just as an “implementation team” as so often happens in busy organizations, but as “learning teams” to make sure that our implementation is regularly, indeed inherently, well-informed along the way. This isn’t about just “learning more effectively” in episodes, but rather changing up what we do so that work and learning are so deeply intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable.
The concept of the “learning organization” was first introduced in 1970 by Peter Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline.” He defines this as the organizational quality of continually seeking new information by the members, and using this knowledge to intentionally evolve and transform. Senge suggests that there are five qualities including systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning. There have been numerous iterations, variations and evolutionary versions and applications since the introduction of this durable model – and it was prescient in terms of implicitly anticipating how the complications of the coming years, would require new ways of operating.
Futures thinking and evolving towards future readiness – combines these ideas in ways that keep a keen eye on what lays ahead. Futures thinking is a practice that requires learning- not just a philosophy. Increasingly, I look at boosting our “organizational learning quotient” as among the most important organizational survival skills for whatever comes next.
Can we really afford NOT to be a learning organization at this point in history? In my estimation – our ability to learn effectively as well as collectively, and evolve accordingly based on our learning – is among the most important ingredients of the agility much discussed as a hallmark of “future readiness.”
Additionally, I’d suggest that understanding “communities of practice” is a way to understand broader and evolved ways of thinking about how within-organizational learning, as well as trans-organizational learning occurs in the modern world. While definitions vary somewhat, most definitions of a community of practice is a collection of people who intentionally learn together – whether in a shared organizational space or, generating even more bandwidth, beyond it. This is aided by technological reinforcements and connections that boost intelligent networks among interested learning partners whether near or global. I believe that these complex learning networks are increasingly demonstrating new ways of solving problems collectively (think about the new to our decade term “crowd sourced” as a cursory example), and that we’ve only begun to see what they will accomplish in the years to come.
Futures readiness means getting serious, disciplined and intentional about engaging in reflection and committed restoration about our organizational learning capacity and beyond.
Press Release (ePRNews.com) – WASHINGTON – Feb 27, 2020 – World Future Day is March 1. This will be the seventh year that futurists and the general public will conduct a 24-hour, round-the-world conversation on the future on March 1 at 12 noon in whatever time zone they are in. Each year, total strangers discuss ideas about possible worlds of tomorrow in a relaxed, open, no-agenda conversation. Futures research is shared, collaborations are created, and new friendships are made.
“Anybody can pull up a cyber-chair at this global table and join the discussion on ZOOM at: https://zoom.us/j/9795262723,” says Jerome Glenn, CEO of The Millennium Project. “Whatever time zone you are in, you are invited at 12:00 noon in your time zone. People drop in and out as they like. If people can’t come online at 12 noon, they are welcome to come online before or after that time as well.”
Each year, for the past six years, global thought leaders have shared their views about governing artificial intelligence, inventing future employment, building space elevators to orbital cities, reducing climate change, guaranteeing safe water and energy, fighting transnational organized crime, developing future forms of democracy, countering information warfare, incorporating global ethics in decisionmaking, enforcing safety standards for synthetic biology, and the future of humanity. Who knows what will be discussed this year? Comments can be added at #worldfutureday.
“This year, we will be joined by Vint Cerf, Internet Pioneer at 12 noon Brussels time,” according to Glenn.
Members of the press are most welcome to join the conversation asking questions to this diverse group of future-oriented people; however, Chatham House Rule applies: you can quote, use material, but not cite the source. “So,” Glenn continues, “come online and join the conversation with others working to build a better future.”
I think inspiration matters. Where do our big ideas for change come from? Often they come from frustration or anxiety about things we see around us that we know should be different. Sometimes they come from history – and the lessons of those who advanced progress but didn’t yet “solve” the challenge. As scholar of social innovation (my dissertation back in the day was about macro level creativity and innovation in social work), I continue to be fascinated by how to build our inventory of innovation spaces that reflect our social work values, ethics and priorities. This is part of why a futures/foresight approach has been so valuable to me. These spaces are full of possibility. They can honor context, values, culture, history – but they inspire deeper types of questioning and more expansive ways to anticipate, explore and create with regard to what comes next, and building the requisite knowledge and power in co-creating the futures we want.
One of my favorite teaching/consulting tools is to look to “innovator” communities to scan and be nourished by good work going on in these circles. Looking through these kinds of links – refreshes my sense of how problems are framed and how solutions might be built. I’ve been building a list of some of my favorite “go to” spark-worthy sites and happy to share it here. What are some of your favorites? What inspires you? Has there ever been a more important time to reinforce our own and each other’s sense of hope and possibility for a better world?
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.
23rd World Futures Studies Federation Conference this September in Mexico City.
Here’s a link to explore one of the largest futures conferences in the world – this will the first held in Latin America. I’d love to go if I can make it happen – worth checking out just to see the extraordinary and global range and reach of futures thinking and applications.
Global Population News
The Pew Research Center published (in 2019) a piece about changes in global population which I think have not been widely noted in social work. “For the first time in modern history,” it states, “the world’s population is expected to virtually stop growing by the end of this century, due in large part to falling global fertility rates,” (Cillffo and Ruiz, 2019). This is a powerful signal about a variety of issues related to the future of humanity, the planet and more. Worth reading.
Social Workers Doing Important Future Facing Activities
It is a joy to get to know some social workers and social work academics who are active and advancing new approaches to stretch social work’s fluency and capacity to use new media, explore new frameworks and new approaches in our field. Here are a couple of examples!
Check out Dr. Courtney Cogburn’s appearance on this recent CBSN episode discussing her work in virtual reality and her VR film experience the “1000 Cut Journey” gives viewers an experience of racism throughout the life of a black boy and then man. Dr. Cogburn is a social work faculty member at Columbia University.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing from and getting to know, economic historian turned ethnographer, Alexa Clay, from the Royal Society of Arts, who spoke about a National Geographic Project she’s been part of creating about “Misfit Economies.” She’s a remarkable speaker and creator of “sparks” in terms of innovative thinking and visioning. She got us all thinking some big creative thoughts about the future of the economy and the global signals that aren’t typically being tracked in what we discuss when we generally hear about this subject in the news. Take a look at the trailer for the film here.
Regular readers of this blog know that a while ago, I did a deep dive on the topic of neo-liberalism as part of my desire to increase my own sense of current events and its relationship in particular to trends in higher education (as well as increasing austerity related to human services). You can view that survey here. Recently, I ran across this fine piece which I’ll add to that general overview. Very interesting piece with a historical lens on the issue of how and when neoliberalism “took hold” in the modern era and how it continues to erode human rights along the way.
Future of Work
I also enjoyed getting to hear from Maggie Wooll who is the Director of Research at the Deloitte Center for the Edge speak about the future of work recently. This report is among the most concise and clear overview of this topic I’ve run across recently – very helpful and offers numerous implications for social work as well as so many places and systems with whom we interact. The question of how the future of work will shake out is very much in process – it is up to all of us to jump in and advocate to assure it evolves in a way that creates just and equitable pathways for all.
Here’s an interesting article describing changing faculty roles in medical education. I think they tackle some of the ecosystemic and institutional norms challenges well in terms of trying to articulate and intentionally modernize academic medical education. This has numerous implications for social work education:
Bellini, Lisa M MD; Kaplan, Brian MD; Fischel, Janet E. PhD; Meltzer, Carolyn MD; Peterson, Pamela MD; Sonnino, Roberta E. MD. (2020). The defintion of faculty must evolve: A call to action. Academic Medicine, available at this link. As academic medical centers and academic health centers continue to adapt to the changing landscape of medicine in the United States, the definition of what it means to be faculty must evolve as well. Both institutional economic priorities and the need to recalibrate educational programs to address current and future societal and patient needs have brought new complexity to faculty identity, faculty value, and the educational mission. (From the author abstract.)
I loved this article entitled “The Language of Anti-racism” and as I read it, I reflected on how much of this language is now part of “mainstream” discourse in social work and beyond. I reflected on how powerful it can be to introduce language that precisely names complex realities that are not widely understood and then observe how this naming process can change the world. Language as activism, language as power, language as the future – an anti-racist future requires a new way to talk about our world and what equity means. Here’s a good signal that this project is moving ahead. I’m imagining what the next iteration of this article might be 10 years from now, realizing that signals of its evolution are all around us, and hoping to play some small part in its emergence!
I have a couple of items here that are interesting and provocative – both surprised and intrigued me in the last few weeks.
These articles are focused on the work of Dr. Julia Mossbridge who is a fellow RWJF grantee and a cognitive neuroscientist. She’s an accomplished artifical intelligence expert and focused (currently) on the question of – can artificial intelligence experience love – and specifically, unconditional love. This will stretch your sensibilities in interesting ways – but check out her work here and here.
Obviously – news of the coronavirus is on most of our minds. If you haven’t seen the new Netflix series “Pandemic” – it might be a good time to catch up. Excellent overview. See the trailer here. Additionally the author of numerous books and recipient of several awards for her work on pandemics, Laurie Garrett has written this recent piece in Foreign Affairs to offer her analysis of our current level of readiness to address the impending health crisis related to this virus.