Women of Color in Tech and/or Futures/Foresight Work

Have you seen the film “The Social Dilemma?” In a previous post, I shared a couple of fine reviews specifically concerning the lack of diverse representation in the film – particularly when it comes to breakthrough thinking, practicing, research and imagining about the future in tech and beyond. Most concerning is the lack of inclusion of the voices of Women of Color who have been conducting important work in this space for many years. Of course the issues in the film are important. But the way the story is being told is incomplete from where I sit. This post is singularly dedicated to amplifying the voices and work of some of these extraordinary people that I have been learning from on my own futures journey. It is by no means exhaustive. But no study of the future, or equity, of imagination and of shared possibilities in tech or beyond it is complete without their collective vision, intellect and passion. I offer this list with gratitude and admiration.

This is an essential learning space for social workers committed to future readiness and the expansive and equity-centered thinking that is required to thrive there.

(an incomplete list – ever in development)

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Ruha Benjamin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Expert on algorithmic racism, bias and tech justice. Presentation of her work.

Pupul Bisht, MA – specialist on decolonization frameworks for foresight and worldbuilding.

Meredith Broussard, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University. Specialist on artificial intelligence and bias. Presentation of her work.

Adrieene Maree Brown – Author, pleasure activist and poet. Presentation of her work – Emergent Strategies.

Kimberly Bryant – Biotechnologist and Founder, Black Girls Code.

Afua Bruce – Chief Program Officer, DataKind, public interest technologist. Presentation of her work.

Joy Buolamwini, Research Assistant, MIT Media Lab, poet of code, data scientist and algorithmic justice activist. Presentation of her work.

Octavia Butler, Author and MacArthur Genious Award Recipient. Overview of her work and relevance today. Interview with Ms. Butler.

Rumman Chowdhury – Global Lead for Responsible AI at Accenture, AI expert. Presentation of her work.

Courtney Cogburn, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Social Work, Columbia University. Filmmaker, psychologist, VR expert. Presentation of her work.

Kishonna L. Gray, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Department of Communications and Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois. Author, researcher and game developer – expert in equity and inclusion in gaming. Presentation of her work.

Walidah Imarisha – writer, educator, Afrofuturist, poet. Presentation of her work.

Anab Jain – designer, futurist, filmmaker and educator. Co-Founder and Director of Superflux. Presentation of her work.

Ingrid La Fleur – Afrofuturist, artist and pleasure activist. Founder of the Afrofutures Strategies Institute. Presentation of her work.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., Founder of Urban Ocean Lab. Climate Scientist and Marine Biologist. Presentation of her work.

Shalini Kantayya, Filmmaker, documentarian. Director of “Coded Bias” film.

Aarathi Krishnan – Humanitarian futurist. Presentation of her work.

Vanessa Mason – futurist specializing in “the future of belonging.” Research Director at Institute for the Future.

Alondra Nelson, Ph.D. – Professor, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study. President of the Social Science Research Council, science scholar. Author of “The Social Life of DNA.” Presentation on “Society after Pandemic.”

Claire Nelson, Ph.D. – futures and foresight leader with focus on global issues. Interview about her work.

Safiya Noble, Ph.D.- Associate Professor of Information Studies and African American Studies. Author of Algorithms of Oppression. Co-Director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. Presentation of her work.

Tawana Petty – digital justice advocate and Director of the Data Justice Program for the Detroit Community Technology Project.

Devon Powers, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Klein College of Media and Communication, Temple University – specialist in trends and trend analysis. Presentation of her work.

Sushma Raman, MPA – Executive Director of the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, author and expert on the future of human rights. Presentation of her work.

Ainissa Ramirez, Ph.D. – author of the Alchemy of us: How humans and matter transformed one another. Brief film/interview.

Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D., Professor of Practice, Government and Technology – Harvard Kennedy School. Founding Director or the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard. Presentation of her work.

SR Toliver, Ph.D. – specialist in literary possibilities of speculative fiction for educators with focus on Black femme/female sci-fi and fantasy.

Ytasha Womack, Afrofuturist, author, filmmaker, scholar and dance therapist. Presentation of her work.

Alisha B. Wormsley – interdisciplinary artist and cultural producer. Creator of the “There are Black people in the future” project. Brief film about her work.

Gathering Resources for the Launch of the national Social Work Health Futures Lab!

In just a few weeks, we’ll be doing a (delayed) launch of the national Social Work Health Futures Lab due to Covid-19 (like so many).

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.

The future of health equity – a curated annotated bibliography

Short films to boost your futures literacy

Governments using/adopting foresight and futures frameworks

New words in futuring: Alphabet of futures thinking

Covid-19 specific

Afrofuturism

A social work futurist goes to a future of medicine conference – download

Big ideas for future thinking – social change palooza!

Epistemic injustice tools and ideas for better futures

Ethics round up

Police abolition: A futures lens

Organizations doing futures/foresight work

Webinars/Interviews – Laura Nissen and social work futures

Social Work and the Future in a Post-Covid 19 World: A Foresight Lens and a Call to Action for the Profession – Article by Laura Nissen

Two Upcoming Opportunities to Talk Futures with Me!! (Updated July 13, 2020 with link to the finished webinars)

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.

This coming Tuesday, May 19 (at 9 a.m. PST), I’ll be interviewed by Kathi Vian, Futurist with the Institute for the Future and one of my mentors in futures work. I’ll be talking about both the new project that I’m doing to build futures thinking capacity in social work, as well as my work with my Portland State University Futures Collaboratory on an interdisciplinary campus-wide futures project. This is a free “Foresight Talks” webinar and you can find out more and register for that here. Link to finished webinar!

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

You can read more of the details and register for these free sessions here!

Hope you can join in!!

Hiring Social Work Faculty that are “Future Ready”

The term “future ready” is popular – one sees it frequently in day to day life. But what does it mean for social work faculty and for Ph.D./D.S.W. students currently intending to make higher education – and the preparation of the next generation of social workers their careers?

This past year, I had a number of occasions to explore this topic with faculty and a variety of doctoral students at various levels of their preparation. Given consideration – one can imagine that a brand new doctoral degree who is looking at a 30 year career ahead simply must assume disruption, complexity and challenge that is unprecedented in the history of the academy – and in social work. If I were hiring right now, I’d be looking for people have been thoughtful, analytic and curious about these types of dynamics and first and foremost – are committed to being rigorous lifelong learners.

I thought I’d share my developing ideas here in the blog. I welcome the opportunity to continue to develop these ideas – because of course the process of getting ready for what comes next is ALWAYS a work in progress and never really done.

High priority for “future ready” social work faculty:

  • Clear orientation towards a practice/research ecosystem that is undergoing significant and systemic turbulence.   A prospective future ready faculty member would have the analytic capacity to identify how these trends (economic, climate, migration,  technological and others) would impact vulnerable people now and in the future with related courses of research and/or practice to remedy/address without compromising social work values and ethics. An ability to articulate risks/opportunities in the future with regard to his/her/their practice area. 
  • Clear orientation towards a higher education ecosystem that is undergoing significant and systemic turbulence.  A prospective future ready faculty member would be prepared and engaged in efforts to simultaneously preserve important elements of the traditions of higher education with ideas, experiences and accomplishments that indicate capacity to participate in intentional systemic evolution without compromising social work values and ethics.
  • Skills related to educational, analytic and/or communication technology in higher education.  A demonstrated ability to positively contribute system-wide in this area.
  • Orientation towards “cognitive load management” given the influx of competing demands.   A prospective future ready faculty member would have skills and an ability to articulate how he/she/they manage competing demands and “noisy” educational/practice settings (given that this dynamic will likely increase not decrease in the future).
  • An ability to articulate and apply social work values and ethics in new kinds of practice challenges (e.g., artificial intelligence, increased use of technology) with a specific eye towards emerging and potentially ill-defined equity challenges of the future.    Orientation towards the need for and commitment to continuing to evolve social work ethics given 1 and 2 above.
  • Ability to articulate frameworks for and skills with 21st century equity work with developed sensibilities about how equity work will change in the future (esp. as related to technological and political variables) in both higher education and social work practice settings.  This may include but is not limited to concepts of “tech design justice.”
  • Ability to articulate plans for and articulate desire to manage going learning and personal career-long development with an understanding of, respect and passion for being impactful given 1 and 2 above.
  • Ability to span local to global (and back again) in new ways as the interconnectedness across geopolitical boundaries increases in the years to come.
  • Ability to work in interprofessional contexts and contribute meaningfully in interdisciplinary settings.

Special thanks to Dean Eddie Uehara and Dean Nancy Smyth for guidance and input on these ideas.

I’ve posted a PDF here if you’d like a copy of these ideas – and they are shared with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

A New Chapter – a National Social Work Education Health Futures Lab!!

Thrilled to announce!!! More will be posted (and likely a website specific to this effort yet to come – but for now – please watch this space for updates!! Many thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for this opportunity!!

January 7, 2020.   

Press release:   Portland State University becomes new home to National Social Work Education Health Futures Lab funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Portland State University School of Social Work received a 2-year, $400,000 award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create a national Social Work Education Health Futures Lab. The lab will explore how trends in technology, climate change, geopolitical shifts and the future of work are set to impact health, social determinants of health and related social justice, equity and social work practice. 

“This project has the opportunity to create a new and generative space for social work health scholars, researchers and educators nationally to prepare our profession for a rapidly changing and developing future in which new opportunities and risks co-exist to impact human flourishing,” said Principal Investigator Dr. Laura Nissen, Professor and former Dean of the School of Social Work, who is also a PSU Presidential Futures Fellow, and a Research Fellow with the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. “This project can create a new network, building on the success of other related national innovation networks such as the Grand Challenges for Social Work, to co-create the future thoughtfully, equitably, and creatively.”  

This project builds on ongoing work Nissen has been engaged in, exploring and inviting social workers nationally to consider futures and “foresight” methods in their practice.

With the support and endorsement of the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools Work Programs and a variety of social work education leaders, this project will expand social work knowledge by training social work education leaders as futurists, organizing learning opportunities and crafting new national education standards to better prepare the field to address the opportunities and risks associated with emergent trends.

This national learning collaborative will be comprised of nominated social work education leaders across the United States who are doing cutting edge research scholarship and teaching related to issues of the future including:

  • The relationship of social media and technology to human health and well-being 
  • Use of artificial intelligence in relation to health (including the exploration of algorithmic racism as well as vital problem-solving opportunities)
  • Geopolitical issues shifting the nature of place and identity
  • Power and control of individual well-being, especially with regard to vulnerable people
  • The impact of climate change and climate justice on human health
  • The future of work for marginalized populations
  • The access to and use of technology as a tool of power and set of health rights

“Portland State University has a long tradition of asking innovative questions and providing the leadership to partner with communities to answer them. We are excited to continue this tradition with this project — and celebrate the chance to welcome leaders from around the country to learn with us and cultivate readiness to build a more equitable and healthy world ahead,” said Interim President Dr. Stephen Percy.  

Selected “fellows” will receive specially developed foresight training and coaching in futures and foresight frameworks in partnership with the Institute for the Future and will develop new platforms to elevate and amplify collective communications regarding the importance of social work educators to learn to prepare to respond thoughtfully to emergent and future challenges to a wide range of human rights and social determinants of health issues.

“Our Portland State University is proud to provide a convening space for these vitally important dialogues for our profession nationally. How will emerging trends in the world regarding human health and well being surprise, challenge and stretch us as a profession? How will our unique strength as a profession contribute to the future of well-being and health in vulnerable communities around the world?  This effort will give us rare protected space and the opportunity to engage in exploration of the answers to that and many other related questions,” said PSU School of Social Work Dean Jose E. Coll.

The project will also shine a light on the ways the “future of work” might impact social workers themselves who work with social determinants of health issues, including the ways that roles, tools and methods may expand and become even more interdisciplinary and more technological in the coming years. These explorations may lead to a host of new ideas about how to best teach and prepare the next generation for effective leadership and practice in a changing world. 

At Institute for the Future, Lyn Jeffery, Distinguished Fellow and Director of IFTF Foresight Essentials, said, “Social workers are building the future, one interaction at a time, through their work at the intersections of health, identity, technology, environment, and equity. IFTF is pleased to be partnering with Dr. Nissen and PSU to help shape new perspectives in social work futures education. We look forward to collaborating with the new lab as it builds the necessary tools and perspectives to overcome the limitations of ‘short-termism,’ fostering a deep bench of foresight leaders within the social work field.”

Please contact Dr. Laura Nissen for additional information at nissen@pdx.edu.