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
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
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.
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.
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.
Note: This is part of a regular occasional series of blog posts I do that is based on scans of Twitter and elsewhere on the web – and a gathering of interesting things I think social workers, social work educators, folks in higher education and related professions who interested in futures topics might find valuable. It is a digest, and is unapologetically eclectic. Here’s a link to prior posts – check them out too!!
Now for some alternative ways of thinking about the smart cities push, what if we advocated for low-tech cities that maybe aren’t so smart…but potentially much better for humanity? This article considers that premise. (P.S. my own editorial note – I don’t think the word “dumb” in the title is helpful or appropriate. I liked the article…the title not so much. Oh well.)
Tech and Society
This past year, San Francisco hosted an art exhibit called “The Glass Room” which had a focus on the interconnected impacts of tech, data and surveillance on modern life. I didn’t get a chance to go…but here’s a wonderful write up describing it in some detail. Sounds like it was very cool and thought provoking.
By the way, who owns your data and what is the future of privacy? Another futurist I follow on the regular, is Amy Webb. She has thoughts she shares about this topic here – important piece. The risks are high for all of us…but I continue to think about how they are disproportionally concerning for the most vulnerable in our world. As usual. We need to do better.
I’m a big fan of the group “Dot Everyone” – it’s a UK-based “responsible tech” think tank. They do such a great job of being up front with their values (which are in sync with many of mine as a social worker) and they do a lot with creative projects and process, implemented in an ethical and transparent way. I follow them on Twitter…but their website is wonderful to browse and engage with.
This is a report from the first national Future Imagination Summit. Comprised of “radical futurists, grounded with deep critiques of the current world, calling into action a collective future for all, based on compassion, justice, and harmony. By imagining radical futures, people’s movements can conjure these visions into actions in the present day.” Check out an overview of the truly inspiring gathering they had in late 2019. This is a meeting I’d love to go to someday if it continues.
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.”
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 email@example.com.
I’m not really big on “resolutions” but I do love goals and aspirations (and goodness knows I never met a colorful marker I didn’t enjoy…LOL). Ran across this beautiful piece called “How to Do a Growth Inventory” from my friend and futurist Vanessa Mason (follow her on Twitter at @vanessamason for great ongoing futures posts!) and it reminded me about this process. After a year of big endings and transitions, my sabbatical and the start of some big new adventures…this feels particularly personal and important. It’s a more intimate side of futures work right? I’ll be jumping in to this kind of activity during these quiet winter months. Want to join me?
Regulating Big Tech
What is the right amount of latitude to use when regulating big tech? Enough to ensure human rights, privacy and social well-being but not too much so that innovation gets stifled? This article makes a pitch that we can most definitely still make it happen…let’s do that!
Here’s a company (Cherry.AI) that has as its tagline: “The AI that cares for your loved ones.” OK, I’m listening…with a blend of curiosity, humor, concern, and (some) openness. Most agree we have a caregiving capacity crisis and it is going to be getting worse as populations age globally. Is this the solution? I see strengths in some of this, and still I worry (privacy, surveillance, control, loss of human connection, loneliness). We will be seeing more of and talking more about this kind of thing. Check it out.
5G is Coming…What Does This Mean?
Here’s another area for which there is a lot of buzz. 5G is coming, almost here and on the verge of “changing everything?” What does that mean and for whom? This article breaks it down (at least from one author’s viewpoint).
Mad Max come to life…sadly, I fear we will see more of this. We are going to need to learn how to take care of each other and share/protect water differently in the years to come.
Nerd Alert! Data Visualization
I can’t deny I love a good infographic, chart, etc. I had an awesome time achieving a personal milestone – my first infographic – just in the last few weeks. Here’s a sharp article that dives into all the different kinds of data visualization. It’s got me inspired!! More to come in this department!! As the world gets more complicated…I think that these types of tools help us communicate more effectively and be kind to EVERYONE’S overwhelmed cognitive load!
Browse the Archive!
If you’ve enjoyed this hop around Twitter for futures topics – check out some previous posts along these lines. These are literally and intentionally a bit of a “wander” – just a variety of items that I see pop up that interest me and I think might of value to my social work, social change and/or higher education colleagues. Enjoy!
Futurists are not big on making “predictions.” That said, looking over all the ideas that other people have across the landscape of the economic/social/government landscape is a valuable exercise. Many of these won’t come true, or may not come true in the ways we think they will, and some will happen. Surely other things will happen that we didn’t see coming. More to the point…what is around the corner from these predictions?
I like looking at them…but I take them all with a grain of salt and a degree of skepticism. As stated earlier in this blog…they are more valuable as a collection…and I think they communicate as much or more collectively as they do individually.
These are amusing, interesting, disturbing and complex. I’ve tried to gather up a few I thought were particularly of note…but this list isn’t exhaustive at all. Offered just to begin getting our brains wrapped around the idea that 2020 is here…and new things will keep coming! (I’ll keep adding to this list in the early months of 2020 as I’m sure more will be coming!!)
Let’s learn together and use all this (and more information) that we discover and gather to build the future we want. But first – a couple of bonus pieces that stretch our creativity and reflection skills!
This is the first in a series of multiple upcoming articles in process regarding social work and foresight/futures practice. Wish me luck in the review process!!
Social Work, the Future and Technology: A Foresight Lens and a Call to Action for the Profession
Laura Burney Nissen
As we head into the year 2020, a set of questions looms large over the social work profession. Are there social problems of the future that are “around the corner” from what we can see right now that may change the way we think about power, social problems, possible solutions and opportunities? What new opportunities might appear, and would we as a profession, be able to spot and leverage them to advance the well-being of vulnerable people with whom we work and ally? This is a paper that explores what being more future facing might look like as social workers and educators, using technology as a sample focus area and introducing foresight practice frameworks and methods that are available to assist us. Foresight practice is a collection of ideas and methods that support individuals and groups to be more effective (and foresightful) in navigating increasingly turbulent economic, political, natural and social ecosystems. It’s goals are to a) to develop collective intelligence, agility and imagination b) do so in the service of increasing intentional evolution of thought and action, c) refine the ability to anticipate with greater proficiency and finally d) increase the probability of co-creating desired futures in keeping with social work values including but limited to antiracism, human rights and social justice. The paper ends with a call to action for social work to amplify and evolve its strengths to join the interdisciplinary community of those using forecasting methods to build a better future.