New Words in Futuring: Emerging Vocabulary for Social Workers #3 (January 2019)

This is recurring and occasional series of posts in which I round up and share both some new terms I’m hearing in the futures discourse, as well as some links to read a bit more where possible. You can see the first and second of this posts if you’d like to diver in deeper!

Black Swan Theory – based on the idea that unexpected and devastating events will always be part of life, and that in hindsight we can frequently see that we “should have” seen the signs leading up to it. Developed by theorist Nassim Taleb, this framework is a model to assist in guiding analysis of current events to help to predict future calamities.

Brief film about Black Swan theory

Nassim Taleb’s book: Black Swan Theory (2010)

NPR Story about Black Swan Theory with book exerpt (2007)

Haptics – a form of interaction involving touch. In futures/tech language, this refers to technological features that involve touch or creating the illusion of touch.

Short video about haptics

Haptics: The present and future of artificial touch

Post-capitalism – futurist frameworks on the evolution of the modern capitalist economy and what will result in its place.

The beginning of post-capitalism: Some say yes (2017)

Post-capitalism: A guide to our future (2017)

Video of author Paul Mason discusses his book “Post Capitalism” (2015)

After capitalism, what comes next? Ethics, for a start…(2015)

STEEPLED Analysis – Framework for environmental scanning. Includes Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological/Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethics, and Demographic dimensions.

Universal basic income/asset models – the idea of assuring universal financial resources and security to all members of a society

Institute for the Future: Universal Basic Assets – Manifesto and Action Plan (2017)

“Universal Basic Income Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam” by Douglas Rushkoff 

Universal basic assets could be the key to an equitable society (2018)

Universal basic assets: The tip of the universal basic income arrow (2018)

Universal basic assets: A smarter fix than universal basic income (2018)

Grand Challenges in Social Work: Building financial capability for all

VUCA – term associated with present ecosystemic conditions in society and various systems (economic, technological and civic). Specifically a “VUCA” world is one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Leading NGO’s in a VUCA world (2017)

Leadership skills for an uncertain world

VUCA Planning in the nonprofit world (2018)

What VUCA really means for you (2014)

Redefining leadership in today’s VUCA world (2018)

New Words in Futuring: Emerging Vocabulary for Social Workers #2 (December 2018)

Recently, I shared some new words that appear in the futures literature and/or discourse.   As mentioned, I’ll continue to produce these lists as I gather up enough interesting terms to do additional versions.   Here’s batch #2.  

Block chain – a digital “distributed ledger” record of transactions which are called “blocks,” and which link together through use of cryptography, are date stamped, and which are resistant to modification once stamped.  

Excellent brief video overview of the fundamentals of block chain (2018)

The truth about blockchain (2017)

What is blockchain?  The most disruptive tech in decades (2018)

FAT (Fairness, Accountability and Transparency) . This is the terminology utilized by a growing body of researchers, programmers and other concerned citizens, FAT encourages dialogue and practice regarding ethics in machine learning development.   (Thanks to Lauri Goldkind for suggesting this term.)


Gamification – Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play (Wickipedia).

Game designer Jane McGonigal’s classic TED talk from 2010 – Gaming Can Make a Better World

Gamification in Education: A Mapping Study (2015)

Top 15 Examples of Gamification in Health Care (2017)

The dark side of gamification at work (2018)

Precariat class – emerging group of people whose economic status is vulnerable, uncertain and literally “precarious” through instability in the labor market.    Results of neo-liberalism on working people.  Connected to concept of “gig economy.”

Public interest technologist – the intersection of tech skills with a desire to make the world a better place through work in areas such as social justice, inclusion and the public good.

Public interest tech – a field you should know about (2018)

Public interest tech (2018)

Why universities need “public interest technology” courses/programs (2018)

Infographic:  5 reasons you might be a public interest technologist (2018)

To serve the people – public interest technologist (2017)

Transhumanism – philosophy and growing community focused on the evolution of humanity specifically related to likely increase in artificial intelligence presence and function in human life (sometimes even suggesting a merging of human life with artificial intelligence).  Critics suggest dystopian possibilities.

Transhumanism and the future of humanity:  7 ways the world will change by 2030 (2017)

No death and enhanced life:  Is the future transhuman? (2018)

The ethics of transhumanism and the cult of futurist biotech (2018)

Team Human – excellent TED talk by writer and scholar Douglass Rushkoff about ethics and humanity in the face of digital and AI futures

A Selection of Online Talks That Can Boost Your Futures Literacy – March 13, 2019

Yuval Noah Harari – 21 Issues facing the 21st century 2019

Douglass Rushkoff – How to be “Team Human” in the digital age 2018

Amber Case – Cyborg anthropology and why it maters (2014)

Jane McGonigal – Gaming can make a better world 2010

Joy Buolamwini – Algorithmic Justice League 2018

Anab Jain – Why we need to imagine different futures 2017

Peter Diamandis – Imagining the future: The transformation of humanity 2017

Walida Imarisha – Living the legacy: Afrofuturism & possibilities for Oregon 2018

Nnedi Okorafor – Sci Fi stories that imagine a different Africa 2017

Nicolas Negroponte – A 30-year history of the future 2014

Michael Bennett, Ytasha Womack, Wale Oyedije, and Aisha Harris – Afrofuturism: Imagining the future of Black identity 2015

Greta Thunberg, Youth climate activist and the global youth movement leader. 2018

Marina Gorbis – The history and future of work 2015

Octavia Butler – Why you should read the Afrofuturist legend Octavia Butler

Bettina Warburg – How the blockchain will radically transform the economy 2016

UNESCO/Riel Miller – How to build “Futures Literacy” 2018. This author has a book called Transforming the Future which is available free online here.

Public entities adopting future models

What does it look like when an entire government or a large government agency commits to a futures lens?  This is a sample of what a scan I recently did produced.    This is an “in process” list.  But exploring them greatly sparks creativity and curiosity about how groups are challenging current assumptions about the present and exploring the tools to inform more desirable futures.  

Sweden and the Ministry of the Future

Wales and the Future Generations Act

Scotland’s Futures Forum

Canada 2030C



European Policy Lab Project – Future 2030

U.S. Army Futures Command

Proposal for a US Department of the Future (from 2016)

Speculative Fictions:  Imagining forms of government in the future

Forecast:  Future of Government (Deloitte report)

Resources from the CCL on the Future of Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership is a US-based international leadership development organization and think tank. 

In exploring various aspects of futures literature, I have discovered a number of interesting resources related to their views on the future of leadership.   Have not found a lot of literature on this topic – so this was of interest to me.   Full disclosure – I have participated in CCL’s leadership programs in the past – though I have no affiliation with them now.    I have found them helpful (though often involve a need to adjust to a social work frame) – but want to be clear I’m not offering an endorsement.   I share these in the spirit of surfacing and sharing good information to be used in our work where appropriate.    While these resources are not “social work specific” they provide a window, in short, to leading through increasing complexity and more dynamic change than perhaps any prior era in history.  These dynamics ultimately impact social work leadership at unprecedented levels as well.  Our challenge is always to retain and adhere to our social work values as we navigate an increasingly challenging practice and leadership ecosystems.  

Please share your thoughts or other ideas about “leadership for the future” resources you’ve discovered!  Join the conversation! 

White paper on the future of leadership (from 2014)

Brief piece on “vertical leadership” (2017)

Video on Leadership Development – Transformations model (2017)

White paper on vertical leadership development – part one (2014)

White paper on vertical leadership development – part two (2015)

What do futurists and foresight practitioners do? What qualities and skills are required among those who engage in this practice?

The term “futurist” is a generic term – generally referring to people who do work called “foresight” or “futures” practice.   One sees this referred to a number of ways among people who are occupying this role in government, business and academia as well in popular culture.

“Futures” work refers to a developing field of professional and academic practice that has been evolving for many years, most commonly is currently referred to as “strategic foresight” work*.  It specifically involves a disciplined approach to systematic individual and collective tools and processes that assist people in using knowledge, culture, creativity, imagination, logic and data to imagine possible futures and their consequences.   Insodoing, futures practice involves amplified strategic planning to navigate these possible futures – to enhance the probability of contributing or guiding towards desired futures, and decrease the probability or guiding away from undesirable futures.   As futures expert Maree Conway (2015) suggests, “the term ‘futures’ should always be viewed as a collective noun, in the same way we talk about ‘economics’ or ‘politics.’   The term is always plural, because there is always more than one future to consider.”

It is important to note, that all credible people who work in this area are careful and explicit to note that futures practitioners are not in the habit of “predicting” the future in any way.    Foresight practitioners use specialized tools to facilitate personal and systemic discovery, dialogue, insight and related action among interested individuals and/or groups who wish to have more agility, agency and effectiveness, in navigating an increasingly disruptive and unpredictable future.    Use of scanning and sensemaking, scenario planning, deep consideration of impacts of various individual and overlapping possible futures are all examples of activities that would comprise foresight building efforts.

It is related to, but different than, strategic planning.  While historically prevalent, strategic planning often works toward identified goals in a variety of ways, developing “a plan” and acting upon it,  whereas foresight work incorporates a more dynamic “container” for uncertainty, emerging shifts, and dynamic evolution.  Planning and action is involved in strategic foresight practice, but there is an assumption that plans will be in a constant state of revision through an action phase as new information, new disruptions and new dynamics will continue to play a role.   In strategic foresight work, plans are alive and evolving.  

Many suggest that strategic foresight practice, is as much “a way of being” in the world, as it is a set of philosophies, tools and practices. 

What is known about people who are successful in this practice area?    Upon examination, one can find many overlaps and intersections with social work practice.  Our profession has an opportunity to join with others and contribute our own emerging expertise and dedication to equity practice in these futures spaces.    However futures work has it’s own distinct voice, language and perspectives.   The following is a sample of ideas about this I’ve gathered a few ideas from well-known and respected sources.

Characteristics of “foresighters” – Conway, M. (2015).  Foresight:  An introduction.  Melbourne, Australia:  Thinking Futures.  

  • I am open to new ideas, including what others might call weird and whacky.
  • I am curious – I want to know why it is so.  I’m a good observer.
  • I think outside the box – I understand my field of practice but I’m interested in global change as well.  
  • I challenge assumptions about the future – mine and others.
  • I value diversity – I understand the perspectives are neither right nor wrong but just are.
  • I am resilient.  I understand the value of foresight to better understand the future, and that this future may be sometimes difficult to communicate.
  • I trust and value my expertise and knowledge to be able to identify observations relevant and important to my organizations future (p. 31).

What makes a good futurist?  Kedge (2017).  Strategic foresight primer.  Kissimmee, FL: Author.

Someone who will:

  • Crave curiosity (active ability to ask “why” relentlessly, or to build upon and go beyond obvious questions and answers, seek new connections, discover regularly and be effective getting others to do so as well)
  • Act courageously (see and move beyond what feels safe or known, and embrace that new perspectives emerge beyond comfort zones)
  • Welcome diversity (ability to challenge one’s own filters and work in teams comprised of different points of view)
  • Think outrageously (ability to stretch minds well beyond what is expected or “normal,” and be open to unusual and unexpected ideas)
  • Connect the dots (look for pattern in trends and signals)
  • Think in multiples (not one future but unlimited futures possible).

What is the role of a strategic foresight practitioner?  Angela Wilkinson (2017).  Strategic Foresight Primer. Brussels, Belgium:  European Political Strategy Centre. 

  • Futures midwife – helping new ideas be born and help new parents understand how to navigate what is happening.
  • Storytelling coach – using the power of storytelling to open new possibilities.
  • Window cleaner – helping people think outside the box and see beyond their usual constraints.
  • Map maker – enabling a bigger picture to be seen with new perspectives.
  • Psychoanalyst – help move through the anxiety of the unknown and help to create positive thinking, cultivating empathy, and deep reflection on peoples’ roles in understanding and setting paths forward through change.
  • Learning facilitator – engaging user-learners as reflective practitioners (p. 5).

Foresight practitioner role. (2018).  Foresight Practitioner Training Materials.  Palo Alto, CA:  Institute for the Future.

  • Analyst and synthesizer(absorb and synthesize information, create frameworks and metaphors to facilitate understanding and action)
  • Translator (organize discoveries and possibilities into languages and options that fit a particular organizational or community context)
  • Community facilitator (helping groups of many sizes imaginatively explore together and. find shared meaning in complexity, dynamic change and preferred paths forward towards the future)
  • Trusted advisor (present role model for futures thinking, provide informed input at multiple levels of organization, and help to drive future facing strategy).

*It is important to acknowledge that while “modern” futures work might be traced to the mid 1800’s in the Western world, it has other and more Indigenous precursors.   Numerous examples in literature focused on Indigenous perspectives on sustainability, principles of the 7th generation and others are essential resources to gain intercultural understanding beyond dominant cultural frames.

New Words in Futuring: Emerging Vocabulary for Social Workers #1 (December 2018)

As I’ve continued on a futures learning journey, I’ve noted a great deal of new vocabulary springing up.   Think back – there was a time when the term “social media” was really cutting edge.  It is not clear which of these terms will “stick” and evolve into powerful forces, but it is clear that they are all in circulation and connected to trends associated with a futures lens.   I’ll be producing these lists periodically when I gather enough to make an interesting list.   Where possible, I’ll always insert a link or two to provide context/background.   Please note that most of these resources are not organized or written by social workers.   My point in sharing them is these tend to be terms that people are talking about but ARE NOT generally in high circulation formally in social work circles.  Yet these terms represent areas of civic, cultural or scientific relevance that will impact vulnerable people and/or our profession (in either positive or negative ways – or sometimes a combination of the two).   I believe we need to be discovering, talking about, and contributing to the discourse around these (and other) emerging issues related to the future.   This is an “in process” and ever evolving exercise.  If you have any futures terms you think might be of interest to social workers – please send them my way at   I’d love to include them in future lists.

Afrofuturism . A movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.  Oxford Dictionaries .


What the heck is Afrofuturism? (2018)

Octavia’s Brood

Algorhithmic racism .  Increasing attention being paid to the embedded “built in” bias inherent in the digital world.

Algorhithms of Oppression (2018) by Safiya Noble

Discrimination Algorhithms (2018)

Computational propoganda.   A term and phenomenon that encompasses recent digital misinformation and manipulation efforts. It is best defined as the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks (Woolley & Howard, 2016).

Computational Propaganda, Bots, Targeting and the Future (2018)

Political communication, computational propaganda and autonomous agents (2016)

The future of computational propaganda

Fourth Industrial Revolution – what comes after the first industrial revolution (water and steam power), second (electric power), third (electronics and and information technology) – leads to the fourth which is the “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres,” Schwaub, 2016.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here – are you ready? (2018)

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us (2017)

Internet of things the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

The internet of things market projected to double by 2021 (2018)

The internet of things:  Opportunities and threats (2017)

Ethics and law in the internet of things world (2018)

Managed retreat (climate change) – pre-emptively moving away from areas considered high risk from a climate change perspective (most recently – areas likely to flood due to sea level change).

Adapting to climate change through managed retreat (2017)

Managed retreat as a response to natural hazard risk (2017)

Meme-iverse – official definition not found, but heard at a recent conference of futures practitioners.  Refers to the overall zeitgeist of favorite and/or high circulation memes and/or realizing the power memes are having to create culture shifts, e.g. “the meme-iverse shows that folks are interested in XYZ.”

Memes:  Shared experience, implicit meaning and social commentary (2017)

How memes are being weaponized for political propaganda (2018)

Are memes the future of social change? (2018)