A Futures Lens for the Addictions Treatment Field – Presentation from the August 7, 2019 Regional Opiate Summit in Vancouver, Washington

It was my pleasure to share my futures work with colleagues who work in the addictions field from across our region this past week. As promised, I’m sharing my slides! Please access them here! Note that the page about technology and the future of mental health care from the National Institute of Mental Health I mentioned can be accessed here. Also of interest on my blog are additional links to work I’ve done in related topics here, here and here.

Please follow along and join the coversation – you can do so here and/or find me on Twitter @lauranissen. It was great spending the morning with you this week!!

New Words in Futuring – Emerging Vocabulary for Social Workers #6

Words are fun aren’t they? You may recall that as I gather up some vocabulary that is new to me in my “futures” journeys…I put together a periodic post about them. (You can see the other posts along these lines here.) New ways of thinking involve new terms that stretch our sense of what is possible and introduces us to new ways to be in the world, take action, resist and function in all that is evolving. Here’s a new batch I’ve been gathering as I study!

AnthropoceneIn short, it refers to a new era where humanity has impacted the earth’s storyline in an irreversible way. While it doesn’t suggest we are defeated…those who seek to name this “new” period in the earth’s life cycle, alert us to the very real risks and dangers this new phase involves.

Critical futures studiesEndeavors to reveal political and power relations embedded inside of futures studies. This type of futures inquiry involves deconstruction and unpacking of texts, meanings, and embedded or hidden control systems in terms of who “decides” what the future will be and who is silenced in that process.

Culture jamming“Culture jamming is an intriguing form of political communication that has emerged in response to the commercial isolation of public life.”

De-Growthcontemporary movement initiated in Europe focused on anti-capitalist, anti-materialist and anti-development aspirations and vision.

Protopian Futures – Compared to utopian futures, which many suggest are too unattainable, protopian futures are gradually and incrementally getting better on purpose. Think of the word “prototype” – we try things and if they work we grow them. But we understand that not everything we try will work…and we have to make space for experimenting (ethically) with new possibilities.

Solastalgia – compared to “nostalgia,” or the longing for days gone by, solastalgia is a word that relates to the psychic pain associated with human realization (and to a certain extent feelings of helplessness) associated with climate change.

Techno-optimist – In spite of the many kinds of bad news about the state of the world and the risks of losing ourselves to technological troubles – there are those among us, who generally feel pretty positive about the likelihood of technology to do more good than harm. They do have some guidelines though! And guess what, some folks want you to know this isn’t really a good idea. Their perspectives are here.

Bonus: 17 Top Tech Buzzwords You Need to Know

12 New Tech Terms You Need to Know to Understand the Future

Climate Change, Environmental Justice and Mental Health: Social Work Essentials

In recent posts, I’ve shared a lot of explorations regarding futures topics that I think will be most meaningful for future-facing social workers including artificial intelligence ideas as they intersect with social work, algorithmic bias, transparency and justice, and mental health technology and ethics.

But of course no real exploration of futures topics most impacting the practice of social work in the years to come would be complete without a thorough look into current literature related to climate change.

Climate change as it relates to mental health and environmental justice are essential aspects of futures- and foresight-oriented social work practice. Social workers and social work education has long been committed to including this topic in our “canon” of focal areas, and issues of climate well-being are increasingly topics faced, discussed and included in social work practice and research. This effort has recently culminated in inclusion of climate change-anchored research and practice in the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative. And yet, though we’d all agree this is an urgent and relevant issue…have we gone far enough to assure that climate change competencies become part of how we think, research, collaborate and practice? What might be involved in going even further to assure that social work maximizes our impact in this space?

One of my most central reference points in this area, has been the work of Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice.” I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak a few times. If you are not familiar with his work, I highly recommend a deep dive. You can start here. This link will take you to a long-form lecture that Dr. Bullard did recently.

These are sobering areas of study – yet in each area there is reason to hope. Against the odds, there are scholars, activists and communities who actively seek to redirect the climate change trajectory from one of destruction, to one of revitalization and healing using a wide variety of strategies and tactics. As is said frequently within the futures practice world – the future is open, not fixed – and what we do now still very much matters. No where is this more true than related to the issue of climate change.

Whether it’s helping to de-code and assist people in naming and surviving in the face of climate change, or putting new levels of energy to bear in reversing and/or stopping climate change, this is another particularly urgent area of deep learning and relevance for social workers who have an eye towards the future!

As is my practice, I organized recent literature on this topic. For those that might wish to join me on a quick tour of “what’s new” in these combined area of practice (climate change as it relates to mental health – and – environmental justice) – you can link to the annotated bibliography and sector scan here. It is always in development. My goal is to boost the degree to which social workers can benefit from the best emerging information available. Let’s put it to good use and protect each other and our planet!

The Future of Higher Education: An open and evolving sector scan in 2019

Earlier in this blog, I noted the need for social work and social work educators to understand the past, present and future of higher education. My previous work included in this space was an indepth review of resources associated with the concept of neo-liberalism in higher education.

As a profession, new social workers and social work knowledge is produced in the academy. Our ethics and values dictate that this knowledge grows out of real world dynamics and partnerships in real communities. Social work knowledge has found its primary home in university and college spaces – and our “home” is undergoing some powerful evolution. Some of it is important and good – some of it is deeply challenging and concerning.

That said, there is a whole sector of futures practice that is focused on the future of higher education. Many challenge that it is in a particularly dynamic state of change, increasingly precarious, and at risk of growing instability as fiscal, legal, and labor issues continue to become more complex. Trend analysts describe plentiful signals regarding shifts in play and on the horizon – and most of these predict growing closures and/or mergers of colleges and universities. Change, they say, is coming.

I’ve been building this resource list for some time as I navigate my own futures journey. I have a particular affinity for emerging knowledge on the future of public higher education, and I’m not alone. If you haven’t become aware of it, there will be a national gathering this fall to explore the future of public higher education on the east coast.

THIS resource list is not specific to the public sector – it is a gathering of a broad array of items focused on both public and private higher education issues.

As with my other resource lists, this bibliography is ever in a state of evolution and revision. As is our strength as social workers – my aim is to prepare social work educator leaders to understand the deeply contextual nature of our work as generators, leaders and protectors of social work knowledge, emerging research and education.

If our goal is to thrive in the social work education practice environment of the future – we will need unprecidented levels of creativity, agility, collective intelligence and FORESIGHTFULNESS. We should resist the urge (and sometimes incentives) to compete, but rather seek pathways to elevate and collaborate for a greater good in the future of our knowledge and our professional workforce, even as we continue to innovate.

A special note, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I’d like to offer a reminder that this resource list is not, and is not intended to be, and indepth review of the literature. Rather, this is a horizon-based sector scan focused on relatively recent resources in the academic, practice, trade press, and popular press on the future of higher education. There are a couple of these that I find very valuable and may “agree” with in terms of my predispositions – others less so. The greater value is in scanning what is here and thinking through what these mentions reveal as a whole about what might be happening, what might be coming. Futures practice involves looking for and finding patterns that imply a trajectory we may yet have the power to influence.

To learn more, check out my bibliography/resource list called The Future of Higher Education – Selected New Resources here.