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
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 email@example.com. I’d love to include them in future lists.
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).
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.”
“The greatest existential challenge facing the human species, can in part be traced, to the fact that we have underdeveloped practices for thinking possible worlds out loud.” Stuart Candy
“All that was ‘normal’ has now evaporated; we have entered postnormal times, the in between period when old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really makes sense. To have any notion of a viable future, we must grasp the significance of this period of transition which is characterized by three c’s: complexity chaos and contradictions. These forces propel and sustain postnormal times leading to uncertainty and different types of ignorance that make decision-making problematic and increase risks to individuals, society and the planet. Postnormal times demands, the paper argues, that we abandon the ideas of ‘control and management’, and rethink the cherished notions of progress, modernization and efficiency. The way forward must be based on virtues of humility, modesty and accountability, the indispensable requirement of living with uncertainty, complexity and ignorance. We will have to imagine ourselves out of postnormal times, and into a new age of normalcy – with an ethical compass and a broad spectrum of imaginations fro the rich diversity of human cultures.” Ziaddin Sardar
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway, between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging our carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Arundhati Roy
“Critical futures studies asserts that the present is fragile, merely victory of one particular discourse, way of knowing, over another. The goal is to disturb the present power relations through making our categories problemmatic and evoking other places, other scenarios.” Sohail Inayatullah
“The liberated futures we want don’t exist as untouchable distant points out of our reach. When we focus on collective action, mutual self aid, self-determination, centering the leadership of the marginalized, we defy linear time. We pull those futures into the present. Let’s keep pulling liberated futures into the present over and over again, until that’s all there is.” Walidah Imarisha
“And therein lies the central truth of globalization today: We’re all connected and nobody is in charge….” Thomas L. Friedman
“Ideas that we do not know we have, have us.” William Appleman Williams
Clues for a Time of Turmoil
– Act in a spirit of hope. Hope, not optimism….Hope has to do with looking directly at the circumstances we are dealing with and still go on because one hopes that one can make a difference in the face of all that stands in the way of making a difference. – Act according to a “tentative commitment.” Be willing to look at a situation carefully enough, to risk enough, to contribute enough effort, enough hope, to undertake your project…and to recognize that we might have it wrong. We may have to back off or change not only how we are doing something but whether to do it at all. – Be “context alert” as a moral and operational necessity. – Be a learner/teacher, a wary guide, and explorer in the wilderness. Be question askers all the time, not answer givers. – Practice compassion. Facing life requires all the compassion we can bring to ourselves and others. Don Michael
“The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time.” Joanna Macy
“In the critical, futures studies aims not at prediction, or at compassion, but seeks to make the units of analysis problemmatic, to undefine the future.” Sohail Inayatullah
“I’m smart enough to know I’m dumb.” Richard Feynman
“Keep being what people aren’t ready for.” Emma Magenta
“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” Richard Feynman
“Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous.” Jim Dator
“I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life and the whole earth will be one circle again.” Crazy Horse
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler
“The future started yesterday, and we’re already late.” John Egend
“Things are getting better and better, and worse and worse, faster and faster.” Tom Atlee
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.” Niels Bohr
“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” Sitting Bull
“Fail to dream about the future, and you forfeit your role in its creation.” Max Elder
““We believe it is our right and our responsibility to write ourselves into the future.” Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown
“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” Elie Wiesel
“The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.” Zora Neale Hurston
“The start to a better world is to believe that it is possible.” Lily Tomlin
“In dealing with the future, it is far more important to be imaginative than to be right.” Alvin Toffler
“My interest is in the future, because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there.” Charles Kettering
“Envisioning and making the future must be a massively public endeavor.” Marina Gorbis
“Hope locates itself in the premise that we don’t know what will happen, and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” Rebecca Solnit
“We cannot expand our self, and our collective self, without making holes in our heart. We are stretching our boundaries…it can be painful. Of course there will be rips and tears. When we imagine a better future, we should factor in this constant discomfort.” Kevin Kelly
Thinking about this this morning…these creative ideas from author Bob Johansen really inspire me.
I like the start of them…but I’m the process of doing some gentle editing based on my social work sensibilities. I’d love to hear what folks in my social work community think of these and how they might enhance them…? Hive mind! More to come as this project evolves!!
Leaders Make the Future Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World Bob Johansen
1. Maker Instinct. Ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making. Leaders need this basic skill to make and remake organizations.
2. Clarity. Ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. Leaders must be clear about what they are making but flexible about how it gets made.
3. Dilemma Flipping. Ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved into advantages and opportunities.
4. Bio-Empathy. Ability to see things from nature’s point of view, to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns. Nature has it’s own clarity, if only we humans can understand and engage with it.
5. Constructive De-Polarizing. Ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
6. Quiet Transparency. Ability to be open and authentic about what matters – without being overly self-promoting. If you advertise yourself, you will become a big target.
7. Immersive Learning Ability. Ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environment, to learn from them in a first-person way.
8. Rapid Prototyping. Ability to create quick early versions of innovations with the expectation that later success will require early failures. Leaders will need to learn from early setbacks and learn to fail in interesting ways.
9. Smart-Mob Organizing. Ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic media and in-person communication.
10. Commons Creating. Ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit all players – and allow competition at a higher level. This is the most important future leadership skill and it grows from all the others. The ability to flip from the frightening VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) to a hopeful VUCA (vision, understanding, clarity and agility) will be the ultimate dilemma for leaders in the future.
This overview covers a number of interesting items I saw go by this past week related to artificial intelligence, technology for social good, the future of social movements, equity issues and the future of work. All of these items intersect in one way or another with social work futures – challenging us to think in new ways about social problems, the experiences and trajectories of vulnerable populations, and the skills needed by effective social workers and other social change actors to achieve our goals. These links are intended to stimulate thinking about our roles ahead in the world that is unfolding.
Strategic foresight is a decades-old discipline that allows us to create functional views of alternative futures and possibilities (Salvatico & Spencer, 2017, p.1)
Foresight competency models include six basic progressive and interrelated sets of intellectual tasks: framing, scanning, futuring, visioning, designing, and adapting (Hines, Gary, Daheim, & van der Laan, 2017).
Ultimately, the power of foresight lies not in its tools and methods, but in its ability to alter perspectives. For this reason, strategic foresight is not just useful within strategic planning, but it also provides a new lens through which to reframe all of our outdated, Industrial Age processes that are no longer effective in our VUCA environment (Salvatico & Spencer, 2017, p. 2).
Foresight is a systematic, participatory, future-intelligence-gathering and medium-to long-term vision-building process aimed at present day decisions and mobilizing joint actions. Foresight arises from a convergence of trends underlying recent developments in the fields of ‘policy analysis’, ‘strategic planning’ and ‘future studies’. It brings together key agents of change and various sources of knowledge in order to develop strategic visions and anticipatory intelligence. (European Commission Research Directorate General: A Practical Guide to Regional Foresight (FOREN), 2001).
The future is not just something that happens to us but something we create every day with the decisions we make (Savatico & Spencer, 2017, p.4).
Strategic foresight calls for a systematic analysis of identifying driving forces of change before developing policies and plans. These efforts are aimed at finding solutions and policy responses that are likely to bring positive outcomes. Hence, these activities enable better preparedness, because they generate explicit, contestable and flexible sense of the future. By doing so, old and obsolete imagery of the future (that organizations sometimes hold on to) can be refreshed. New imagery of the future makes it possible to reveal and test assumptions of our understanding of the world. Moreover, insight about the meaning of possible futures also enables the organization to capitalize on opportunities, particularly ones that are in the long-term future that few people are aware of. New…strategies can emerge from understanding these opportunities (Duijine & Bishop, 2018).
Strategic foresight, and more specifically, scenario planning, act as an immune system within our organization, allowing us to create multifaceted strategies that are effective no matter which future emerges (Savatico & Spencer, 2017, p. 4).
Foresight: Acting wisely in the present, with conscious intent to shape a deeply desirable future. This intention requires us to learn to act in light of explicit and adequate anticipations of the full range of ways one’s future context and its implications may develop. Such anticipations must be tested reflexively and even . meta-reflexively. Strategic: Having to do with establishing, reinforcing or changing the fundamental trajectory of a person or group into and through the future. Strategic Foresight: Acting with foresight (see above), paying particular attention to trajectory-altering events, forces, threats, opportunities and commitments. Strategic foresight informs and provides a context for management/policy, just as management/policy provides a context for operations/administration. Strategic foresight is the applied art/science of the pure art/science of futures research (also called futures studies). Strategic foresight is focussed on one’s context. Its purpose is to ensure the continuing relevance of the person/organization in question. (Nelson & Forsight Canada, 2015).
Here are a few more interesting, intriguing and potentially disruptive ideas I’ve run across as I continue the futures learning journey. Where appropriate – I’ll offer some brief commentary and some questions along the way! Do you have a link or idea you think is worth sharing? Share it here or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!! Thanks for visiting.
How gamers make money. Fascinating short film about this emerging economy. Wondering how this will morph and evolve as time goes by.
Health and Technology
Big investments coming in digital health – are social workers ready to contribute, participate and even lead in the future of digital and technology-enhanced health with an equity lens as our organizing principle?
What data scientists actually do. If a core skill of the future is computational thinking – and if the world will increasingly be running on “big data” then the rest of us have an obligation to at least understand what these scientists are really doing – if only in lay terms. How can we as social workers engage with this topic and these processes to play a role in assuring that big data serves the most vulnerable, not contributes further to exploitation? Ethics are mentioned as one of the biggest emerging challenges for this field. How can we insert ourselves into these dialogues and at least begin to ask the right questions?
Periodically – I’ll just offer a list of some of the more interesting, intriguing and potentially disruptive ideas I run across as I continue the futures learning journey. Where appropriate – I’ll offer some brief commentary and some questions along the way! Do you have a link or idea you think is worth sharing? Share it here or email it to me at email@example.com!! Thanks for visiting.
The Future of Gaming
The future of gaming. Deep end of the pool analysis by a gaming expert, this is a fascinating read on the past, present and future potential of gaming as a force that is here to stay.
Fundamentals of “gamification.” If you’re new to gaming, this is a useful little overview that is an easy and helpful read. Even if you are a gamer…it provides quite interesting context to understand the building blocks of the form. Should social workers be considering incorporating more gaming elements in our work? Is it possible that social change, healing, and reconciliation could actually be fun as well as meaningful? Requires imagination…we can do that!!
Will block chain transform the public sector? This could be among the most powerful “macro” issues to impact our economic world. I don’t see many social workers involved to shape and activate our principles. Important place for us to get learning!
Great piece on blockchain – written by a social worker!!! Lots to talk about and explore here. Bravo to this SWer for taking the leap to understand and wrestle with what this might mean for our profession!
Preparing for workforce needs of the future when we don’t know what the jobs will be. We’ve been here before. Great piece that outlines the fundamentals and reminds us that these shifts in workforce focus have occurred before in history. Given that this is a piece from a business journal…not enough attention paid to the implications of folks already in an economically vulnerable position BEFORE all of these changes. Can social work itself be a force in assuring greater supports to transition workers less painfully from one “workforce era” to another to preserve and protect well being and dignity?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Found myself thinking entirely about a) the future of the social work workforce and b) the displacement and resulting vulnerability of so many. How can we participate in constructive and productive ways that reflect our values as social workers in all that is to come?
How management needs to change to be ready for the future. Thought provoking. It goes without saying that all places where social workers work will likely be going through profound ecological changes (political, economic, etc.) during the next 20 years. Does it make sense that our management approaches will change as well? This would be a great piece to have macro social workers re-write and/or augment. Does what is written here adequately reflect the values we hold dear?