Big Ideas for Social Change Champions – Idea-Palooza!

I think inspiration matters. Where do our big ideas for change come from? Often they come from frustration or anxiety about things we see around us that we know should be different. Sometimes they come from history – and the lessons of those who advanced progress but didn’t yet “solve” the challenge. As scholar of social innovation (my dissertation back in the day was about macro level creativity and innovation in social work), I continue to be fascinated by how to build our inventory of innovation spaces that reflect our social work values, ethics and priorities. This is part of why a futures/foresight approach has been so valuable to me. These spaces are full of possibility. They can honor context, values, culture, history – but they inspire deeper types of questioning and more expansive ways to anticipate, explore and create with regard to what comes next, and building the requisite knowledge and power in co-creating the futures we want.

One of my favorite teaching/consulting tools is to look to “innovator” communities to scan and be nourished by good work going on in these circles. Looking through these kinds of links – refreshes my sense of how problems are framed and how solutions might be built. I’ve been building a list of some of my favorite “go to” spark-worthy sites and happy to share it here. What are some of your favorites? What inspires you? Has there ever been a more important time to reinforce our own and each other’s sense of hope and possibility for a better world?

Here’s the link!! Come explore!!

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.

The Future of the Social Determinants of Health – An Eclectic and Transdisciplinary Scan of the Academic Literature – January 24, 2020

According to the World Health Organization, the social determinants of health are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

In preparation for deeper work in the new national Social Work Education Health Futures Lab – this preliminary review of the literature is shared. Our effort will seek to invite social work scholars to contribute to new ways of imaging and contributing to health equity and sharing them in the form of research, curriculum and scholarship. How will social work and social work education advance health equity in the future? That question will be our guiding star.

The goal of the linked review was to identify a beginning group of resources that mentioned social determinants of health along with concepts of the future, climate change, technology (including artificial intelligence, social media and other dimensions) along with an assortment of other concepts deemed related to futures or foresight.

Social work has made many contributions to health equity in the United States, and a few of them are included here. Our next challenge is to prepare for what comes next and how to navigate, shape and co-create a future in which health is respected as a human right and to which systems and supports to reinforce health for all is a reality. Social work education will do this by preparing a workforce that is ready and able to deliver this promise. This resource list will help to spark some ideas – but should not in any way limit our imaginations.

By its very nature, this review is eclectic, transdisciplinary and emergent. Pathways forward to building a more equitable health future will rely on our collective intelligence, imagination and agility – and will require us to look for new kinds of information and put it together in new ways. The academic literature will always be an is an imperfect and incomplete knowledge base – but it serves to give us a reference point and a place to find what our fellow social scientists have explored.

Updates and revisions will be forthcoming. I invite suggestions – so if you have ideas for good resources you think should be included, they are welcome.

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.

Prediction- and Trend-Palooza – (early) 2020

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!

Predictions and Forecasts for 2020

Tech predictions for the decade ahead: What will happen by 2030? (2019)

5G is coming – what does it mean? (2019)

How AI and automation will change the way we use technology in 2020 (2019)

4 ways work will change in 2020

Government trends 2020

Trends in digital mental health 2020

2020 Strategic trends glossary for higher education

Top trends in higher education

State of mental health in America 2020

5 consumer trends in 2020

The U.S.’s top jobs in 2020 according to LinkedIn

15 AI predictions for 2020

Tech trends for 2020

Another interesting piece reflecting some history – it’s about how the social science research from 2010 to 2019 foresaw some important contemporary developments. Love a good shout out to the role of history in futures work! The 2010s featured a lot of great social science. Here are my 12 favorite studies. (2019).

This is from last year – geopolitical forecast

Navigating a world of disruption (2019)

New article wrapped up and out for review! Social Work and Foresight!

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

Abstract

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.