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 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!!
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
There have been lots of fascinating things (as always) floating around online to spur some new thinking and inspiration related to futures work and study!
If you follow this blog, you may know that I do regular posts about things I find that relate to areas of interest – future of government, well-being, social problem/solution-building, higher education, ethics in tech, and other related topics. You can scroll through some previous posts along these lines here. I curate this for those who are in my particular field of social work education – but also for others that may have common interests. This is a way that I personally/professionally track “signals” that I see, compare, combine and consider about what may be coming!
Excited to share that earlier this summer, I became a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. I’m very intrigued and inspired by the work they do there, and the varied and diverse fields of practice that their team includes. My sabbatical should provide some needed time and space to delve into so many of the interesting projects and explorations they have in play. If you’re interested in learning more about them – they have a fantastic conference once per year (called a 10-year Forecast Summit). This year the theme is about the future of power…a timely and vital topic. Information about the gathering is here. I will be there!!
Intriguing, inspiring and important piece by the BBC on “the perils of short termism” as our planet’s greatest threat. This idea is frequently discussed in futures work – and in many respect – foresight is the opposite of, or anedote to, this limited set of perspectives.
Just finished reading “Fix the Future” by Andrew Keen. I liked a lot of things about it! Thumbs up. Here’s a review. Will probably do a review at some point.
Also just finished reading “Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code” by Ruha Benjamin. Huge thumbs up on this one! Will definitely be doing a review with strong implications for social work. I would go so far as to say social workers and social work scholars should run out and get this book ASAP. Important and significant implications for our work and scholarship. Here’s a review.
A few months ago, I did a review of the highly impactful book “The Future of the Professions” on this blog (which I continue to recommend to anyone who will listen). This past month, I had occasion to meet with an attorney who was most interested in the future of the legal profession and on her way to becoming trained as a futurist here in Portland. After getting together, I came back to do a little searching about what I could find to help her get started on her journey. Dr. Susskind is back at it with some specific scholarship and thinking about the legal profession. Here’s a talk he gave at Harvard Law School on this topic (from 2017), an article, and a review of a new book he’s written on the future of law and the legal profession. All of this has enormous implications to help other professions (and for the purposes of this blog – social work) understand how the changes occurring in the world are indeed changing and evolving professions, whether the professions themselves are attending to this or not. I found these resources to full of sparks, insights and linkages to lots of futures topics.
After a brief hiatus involving changing jobs (hello sabbatical!) and changing houses after 20 years (hello new house!), I’m back to share some futures items I thought were noteworthy from the past month – regarding topics I find important in my focus on the future of social welfare, higher education, the arts and more!
Amazon has announced that it is getting into the training business with some serious dollars invested in this quest. This is a short piece that lays out what is involved and the scope of their aspiration. While there are many corporate partnerships with higher education successfully operating, some express concern that this bypassing of universities altogether could be an emerging trend. What is the “purpose” of higher education beyond preparing folks to participate in the workforce? What is the difference between education and training? What is a future where folks are continuously trained but not educated? What happens to the idea of academic freedom, open inquiry, challenging multiple points of view or politically unpopular perspectives in such a scenario? These are some of the questions that such movement inspires.
Responding to challenges from its members, Pinterest (and numerous prestigious partners) recently launched a new service through its webpage to help users find resources to manage stress and anxiety. Interesting spin on “go where the people are” kind of approach rather than starting freestanding apps or services. Worth a look.
Quite interesting to read the UK’s recently released guidelines for “Data Protection Regulation” and imagine what it would look like if all countries operated openly, transparently with these such guidelines. Many countries are wrestling with this issue.
Some futurists got together and put a very visually satisfying “periodic table of mind-blowing tech” together. It is quite a fun rabbit hole of a site with endless opportunities to explore the tech that is coming!
Beautiful story about “planting trees as resistance and empowerment.” This article is empowering, energizing and hopeful. How much difference can individual people working together make to tackle climate change? This article will inspire you!!
Here’s a new article (and report) about “bias” in artificial intelligence is really about human bias “baked into” algorithms and processes. This report further underscores the need for creators and coders of the future need to be grounded in some of the same lenses, skills and ethics that social work is built on. Equity principles and skills matter – in artificial intelligence spaces and everywhere else.
These stories make me wonder how long it will be before adoption and/or medical social workers will find themselves in situations that include some of these dynamics – and if we will be ready when that happens? Where will we stand? How will we advise? How will we draw the line between ethical and unethical practice in the midst of such rapid evolution in this technology?
Want to Go to the International Space Station on Vacation?
New technology for social justice field scan published in 2018 called “More than code” by a coalition of organizations concerned with intersections of tech, equity and ethics. Excellent resource – good reading and important set of ideas and resources for us in social work.
Artificial intelligence, work and the future of inequality is a piece that dives deeply into the intersection of these three issues. Imagining a world in which the meaning, availability and compensation for work is changing so dramatically should be something we are tracking in social work – potentially impacting many areas of our practice.
Ran across the work of Lorraine Chuen while scanning for data justice information. Her presentation indicates she’s a tech designer, researcher and writer in this space. She has some excellent information on the interplay of design thinking and tech justice. My favorite part of her presentation are some “design justice principles” which I have sensed are truly a missing piece in the design thinking frameworks I’ve seen increasingly being utilized in social work spaces. These include:
We use design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems.
We center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.
We prioritize design’s impact on the community over the intentions of the designer.
We view change as emergent from an accountable, accessible, and collaborative process, rather than as a point at the end of a process.
We see the role of the designer as a facilitator rather than an expert.
We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process.
We share design knowledge and tools with our communities.
We work towards sustainable, community-led and controlled outcomes.
We work towards non-exploitative solutions that reconnect us to the earth and each other.
Before seeking new design solutions, we look for what is already working at the community level. We honor and uplift traditional indigenous, and local knowledge and practices.
This is a fun and creative piece that is not wholly against tech – but does challenge the reader to be discriminating about what is happening when we engage – and continue to develop evolving and deepening “digital literacies for our own well being. I loved the format – most engaging. This is relevant not only to us – but challenges us to think about the role we might play in digital literacy/empowerment/agency with vulnerable people that we work with.
The future of health care
This piece is an excellent and thought provoking piece about trends related to the future of health care. As social workers – these are exciting frames to imagine what is possible in terms of delivering new tech and medical breakthroughs to reduce human suffering, and extend both the length and quality of human life. That said, I found myself wondering throughout the article (as often happens) how these advances will be distributed, who will have access to them and who will not, how privilege will play out? It doesn’t diminish the richness of the evolution of this science, but it does challenge us to keep an equal eye on ground level public health and improving conditions for those least likely to access high end breakthroughs.
The next big technology revolution (well one of them…)
I’m considering starting a regular feature on these blog entries called “OK this will just blow your mind.” This is a resource that is in that category. A former MIT president, Dr. Susan Hockfield (a neurobiologist) has a new book just out called “The Age of Living Machines.” She suggests that the next big revolution will be (and is) the convergence of machines and biological elements. Essentially technology built out biological parts. See what I mean – mind blowing! Many interesting applications that can improve the quality of human life – and probably put us at risk too. Hello ethics progress – I hope you’re coming along on this journey. Here’s an overview of her work and insight into her book. Interesting tidbit woven into this piece – the world’s energy needs are expected to double by the year 2050.
Futures Thinking Frameworks
Here’s an article that invites the reader to consider a framework called “critical uncertainties” to anticipate impacts of artificial intelligence in the future. The author describes this as a framework that “…allows us to consider a few plausible futures and become more resilient to the challenges they hold. It reduces the risk of blind spots and unwelcome surprises. It can also help us identify ways in which we can proactively shaping the future.” (Woeffray, 2019). I’m always interested in exploring new ways to think about things – and find that this ongoing scanning and consideration of ideas like this can be one of the most valuable parts of getting social work as a profession to simply “try out” some methods and frames that might stretch our sensibilities.