Ethics and a Social Work Futures Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 NASW Code of Ethics

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

NASW resources for understanding the new social work code of ethics

Futures Ethics Round Up – An Exploration and Overview for Social Work and Beyond

(Image above is from “Ethical OS” referenced below.)

There is SO MUCH going on in spaces associated with tech ethics and related ethical guidelines (or lack thereof) with regard to a host of futures issues. Among all of the urgent concerns calling from the future – few are as important as more actively advancing our sense of ethics about the choices we are making (and that are being made for us) in our lives and world.

I thought I’d just pull from my own growing list of readings/resources and see what they look like all together. I urge you to cruise through and explore with gusto, those places and/or titles that attract your attention. This is a list that is ever growing/changing and not intended to be exhaustive. Note of warning: This isn’t a “quick read” kind of list…each of these resources is complex. But I’ve found the time spent surveying these worth it in stretching my thinking and helping me build a better ethics foundation, as well as prepare to write more on futures topics. As always, I’m building my own library for my own study – just sharing so that other interested folks can jump in!

Of course social work is not absent in dialogue about ethics and tech, but I would also suggest we are not done evolving and keeping up with all the rapidly changing dynamics in the tech ecosystem. This is not a project that is probably ever done.

Social work has well-known ethics scholars who have wrestled with and guided our profession regarding tech ethics for some time. And we also have emerging ideas and voices entering the dialogue as well, exploring how technology is changing social work practice, how to guide our profession towards meaningful use of technology, how mental health and related social work practice areas are considering and evolving ethically, and how to build ongoing learning collaboratives to continue to grow our ethical capacity intentionally. A few more resources round out an overview (just a sample) of social work thinking on tech ethics from recent years.

My perspective is generally: Let’s learn faster shall we? Ethics study can accelerate our readiness and increase our positive impact in the future – though it won’t remove the degree of ethics challenges we are and will continue to face. This list is a way for us to stretch and consider some ideas “just outside” of our typical practice/scholarly spaces.

Note: If you haven’t heard of it yet, the term “design ethics” is emerging quickly and worth a look. These resources are included at the end of this overview.


UNESCO’s page for Science, Technology and Ethics

Omidyar/Institute for the Future’s Ethical Operating System (Ethical OS) (and a little article about how/why it was developed here).

Open Data Institute’s Data Ethics Canvas Toolkit

Should this exist? The ethics of new technology (2019)

Deep ethics: The long term quest to decide right from wrong (2019)

Ethics of the future (on the importance of not hurting future people) (2019)

2019 is the year to stop talking about ethics and start taking action (2019)

Tech ethics issues we should all be talking about in 2019 (2019)

Embedding ethics in the computer science curriculum (2019)

Facial recognition tech raises some real ethical dilemmas (2019)

List of TED talks related to a new era of ethics issues/concerns

Who will teach Silicon Valley to be ethical? (2018)

Future Ethics – the book everyone in tech should be reading now (2018) . Note: Here’s an online lecture by this author Cennyd Bowles.

Black mirror, light mirror: Teaching technology ethics through speculation (2018)

The battle for ethics at the cutting edge of technology (2017)


Why it’s time to start talking about blockchain ethics (2019)

The blockchain ethical design framework for social impact (2018)


Gender, race and power in AI (2019)

Two major concerns about the ethics of facial recognition software and public safety (2019)

White supremacy and artificial intelligence (2019)

Futures, power and privilege (2019)

Algorithmic Transparency, Bias and Justice (2019)


Rethinking medical ethics (2019)

What are important ethical implications of using facial recognition technology in health care? (2019)

4 reasons why healthcare needs a digital code of ethics (2018)

The ethical intersection of health and technology (2017)

The ethics of the health related internet of things (2017)

On the ethical implications of new health technologies and citizen participation (from the EU) (2016)

No time to waste: The ethical challenges created by CRISPR (2015)

The Future of Work

Take it from a futurist: How Chief Ethics Officers should approach AI issues (2019)

HR – Can we please discuss ethics in the future of work? (2018)

Future of Work and Ethics – European Commission (2018) also Future of Work/Future of Society (2018)

Assistive Technologies

Entire issue of journal “Ethics and Behavior” dedicated to the ethics of assistive technologies. (2019)

Ethical design of intelligent assistive technologies for persons with dementia: A descriptive review (2018)

Assistive technology and people (2018)

Assistive technologies for persons with disabilities – focus on blindness and visual impairments, deafness and hearing impairments, and persons on the autism spectrum (2018)

How does assistive technology benefit people with disabilities (2018)

Ethical considerations for use of assistive technologies for persons with dementia (2017)

Controversy: Do new technologies put pressure on people with disabilities (2017)

Note: I have not had a lot of success finding strong critiques of the assistive technology world. Seems there is a lot of “pro” literature, but little in the way of constructive critique…(see last entry for a good one I found). If you are a reader who is knowledgeable in this area, I’d love/appreciate suggestions.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence: The global landscape of ethics guidelines (2019)

Are we ready for artificial ethics? AI and the future of ethical decision making (2019)

From what to how: An overview of AI ethics tools, methods and research to translate principles into practices. (2019)

What should a code of conduct for AI include?

AI and the future of ethics (2017)

Top 9 ethical issues in artificial intelligence (2016)

Smart Cities Ethics

The ethics of smart cities (2019)

Cities face up to facial recognition ethics (2019)

Smart cities pose fresh ethical challenges for open governance (2018)

Citizenship, justice and the right to a smart city (2018)

Three scenarios show we have to think carefully about ethics in designing smart cities (2018)

Design Ethics

Ethically aligned design: A vision for prioritizing human well-being with autonomous and intelligent systems (2019)

How to Design with Ethics (2019)

The future of humanity depends on design ethics, says Tim Wu (2019)

Dear Designer: The Happiest Design Ethics Article You Will Ever Read (2019)

Design justice: Towards an intersectional feminist framework for design theory and practice (2018)

Design Justice, AI, and Escape from the Matrix of Domination (2018)

Ethics can’t be a side hustle (2017)