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: email@example.com, Twitter: @lauranissen
I’m reading (a lot!) on my sabbatical. A few folks have asked me to put a list together so I did! It’s mostly general futures books (you can find other more extensive academic articles readings elsewhere on this blog). Here you go. Have fun and don’t forget to share ideas of books I may have missed. Note: I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get all of these read on my sabbatical. I have other things I’m doing…but it was a good exercise to get them all together and reprioritize which feel most important for me to read next. Isn’t a GREAT problem to have too many good books to read? I feel lucky.
There has been a lot of focus and dialogue in the last few years about the “future of work,” which is an important and fascinating area of inquiry. Less has been written about what all of this means about the future of organizations as we know them.
That said, there is valuable information about – I’ve tried to gather up a sample to explore. I believe that all of this will be part of the future of work transition – and impact folks in every sector of public and private organizational life.
John Hagel on the future of work (2019) – this speaker does a masterful job of intersecting the future of work with the work organizations need to do to get ready.
Social work has a long tradition of social planning – an implicitly future facing endeavor. Social planning that looks at important intersections of community needs, resources, policies and practices all combine to be a perennial focus of macro social work. Futures and foresight work represent the evolution of this work.
Scenario planning was an intermediary step in this
evolution. Based in the idea of catalyzing
a group or community’s shared sense of multiple possible futures became popular
in the mid-80’s public sector as a planning technique. It was also implicitly future oriented, but
urged people to pick scenarios that most aligned with their goals and visions
and assist them to develop strategic plans that were believed to be most likely
to achieve the envisioned goal. During this same time, a variation of this
work had been developing that focused more explicitly on the future. Termed “foresight,” it had much in common
with scenario planning, but more intentionally utilized methods of tracking “signals”
in the changing socio-political and cultural ecosystem. Increasingly influenced by strong currents
and change dynamics due to the influence of technology on modern life and
climate change as well as other global dynamics, foresight and “futures”
practice involves a set of methods designed to:
Intentionally engage in cross-disciplinary learning about sectors beyond one’s own with special emphasis on emerging issues and their connection and likelihood of complicating historical trends and current realities
Use scenario and speculative design methods to build out possible futures
Increase collective intelligence, agility and imagination across diverse community sectors and identities
Develop plans that reflect all of the above
These methods recast and enlarge the idea of what “readiness
for the future” means. Rather than
having a detailed step by step traditional plan, often cast as an elaborate “to
do” list, a foresight exercise helps organizations and/or communities to have a
broader, engaged and agile set of goals about the future, in a well-guided and more
expansively informed set of possible risks, opportunities, careful attention to
unseen spots and unintended consequences, and a deeper and more creative sense
of actions based on preferred futures.
Foresight work compels organizations and communities to respectfully
engage in how a changing world will likely impact them and how they envision success
for themselves given the often surprising and turbulent practice ecosystem in
For social work, the technological, climate related, and
geopolitical shifts present a number of unprecedented kinds of new risks,
opportunities, concerns and challenges to our profession. A sample set of questions in this light for
the future of social work might include the following.
How shall social work prepare for:
Utilization of artificial intelligence in ways that fully conform to our ethics and values?
Increasing climate- and geopolitically related increases in migration and immigration (as well as climate-related health and mental health distress)?
A changing health landscape powered and influenced increasingly more by technology yet not necessarily accessible to all and/or using technologies that contain racial, gender or other forms of bias?
New types of mental health treatment that involve a) technology in the forms of “apps” and non-in-person service delivery and b) new types of grief, transition-related trauma, and anxiety currently measurably on the rise due to climate change and other “rate of change” related disorientation due to rapid social change?
Community supporting and advocacy-oriented approaches to smart cities and increasing use of technology for surveillance of the most vulnerable?
An era of anticipated large-scale “technological unemployment” among low-skilled workers in the US, already economically vulnerable, and create economic safety nets that seek to prevent dramatically increased suffering?
New forms of inequity based on technological access and/or development that “leave out” central voices and avenues to power in algorithms and subsequent infrastructure resulting from their use?
An era in which the laws and protections that citizens rely on are thought to be inadequate to protect and preserve human rights and basic civil liberties given such rapid technological change and complexity?
Two important notes. First – there are social work scholars and practitioners around the world and within the U.S. who are currently venturing into these important areas and their work is to be commended and taken seriously. Secondly – many of these readiness questions are actually already in play for practicing social workers – and in this sense – the future is now. Consider emerging use of tech in mental health, AI in child welfare, increases in smart cities technologies in places where social workers operate, unanticipated and unethical shifts in US immigration policy. How comprehensive has our assessment, study, preparation and advocacy planning for these and other developments been? Are we ready for what is (already here) and coming next? A futures lens and agenda for social work, which is also beginning to emerge, can help to connect these important innovations, explorations and innovations to the historical traditions of our profession and help us be more comprehensively future-ready. Social work integration of these futures frameworks require adjustment in the form of more explicit power analysis, equity analysis, and careful integration (and potentially even the expansion) of our code of ethics.
Professions such as medical doctors, nurses, lawyers,
journalists and many other professions are actively engaged in a focused and
committed processes to prepare themselves for the future. Evolution of our times requires our profession
and our tool kits to encourage an intentional, thoughtful and reflective “upgrade.” Futures practice can be a valuable tool in
helping to achieve this goal.
What happens when you cross data science with feminism? Well – you get data feminism. Authors of a new book by this title Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein suggest that the way we approach data science, the way that we view, apply and understand data can be enhanced by careful examination of their (non-feminist) origins and that revisions to our thinking and methods for humanity are warranted. It comes out in March of 2020 – but reading the previews has definitely got me wanting more!
AI for Good – Is it Really?
I’m not sure I agree with each and everything in this piece but I really appreciate the effort to “complicate” the idea that “AI for Good” is just automatically so. In fact many of the challenges presented deserve careful, ethical consideration. I respect and appreciate this article. Here’s another piece that explores some of the same ideas with a slightly different flavor.
Everyone is using this phrase now…and folks are still arguing a bit about its accuracy. Here’s a great article that makes this case for its validity. I found the various categories to help us understand how your data, my data, everyone’s data is being used (not that I’m always a fan of this!!).
Thoughtful AI Requires Intelligent Human Participation
Here’s another review of a new forthcoming book called The Future Computed by Brand Smith and Harry Shum with some thoughtful ideas about a fast arriving future centering AI as significant driver. The discussion of potential AI-related job loss is notable, and the principles they assert (AI should be fair, trustworthy, transparent and controllable” are important.
I had the pleasure of attending the recent “Exponential Medicine” gathering in San Diego, CA last week. For four days, I was surrounded by some of the brightest physicians, researchers, nurses, inventors, investors, health educators, and health administrators I’ve had the privilege of meeting.
This particular image is borrowed from one of the presentations (Dr. Lucien Engelen). He used it to describe the changes that are coming to the entire health care space. And changes that we are not universally prepared for. It was a meeting that was interchangably inspiring, exciting, intense and worrisome. Of course I found myself thinking – how can create pathways for more and deeper interdisciplinary thinking and work with social workers as we navigate these complicated times and opportunties? How can we (as a profession) be part of making sure these extraordinary health breakthroughs are made accessible to all?
This blog post and meeting download is a step in that direction. Fellow social workers – let’s talk about exponential medicine! I would love to hear your reactions to what I’ve put together about my experiences.
This is a long debrief document (you are not gonna be able to read it on the run…you might want to get a beverage and settle in…LOL) – I included slides from photos I took – so this makes the document a little longer, but I was endeavoring to make you feel like you got a taste of all there was to learn. Social workers belong in these spaces too…we have much to offer from our valuable perspectives.
Enjoy – and here’s to an incredible, complicated future.
Last week, while at the Exponential Medicine conference (full download to follow soon), I heard about the involvement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in U.S. child welfare practice. This was new to me – I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about it.
I immediately went to a colleague who I knew was very active in this space, Dr. Melanie Sage, and asked her if she knew about use of AI in this way. She had a great many resources, ideas and connections in this area. Together we put together a resource list and annotated bibliography for scholars, teachers, community members, and students might be interested in (Melanie’s contributions are based on her scholarly work in this area, mine are based on never-ending curiosity and my futures activity). We both believe we’d like to see more social workers getting curious, getting creative and applying their knowledge, values and skills as social workers to make sure these approaches are used with the highest ethical dimension possible. In truth, there is no indication that artificial intelligence is going away – and all signs point to greater expansion with these tools. We are literally watching the path being built while we walk on it. We both agreed we’d like that building process to be one informed by the literature – so here’s a place to start.
Where and how can tools like artificial intelligence be used to support positive outcomes for families and children in the child welfare system? What are the risks and potential complications that could interfere with our good intentions? We are just beginning to find out. There are opportunities to truly revolutionize outcomes for the better – developing analytic capabilities we have never had before using information in all new ways to improve our practice. And there are risks to use of these tools that are also covered in the literature and well-documented. Come learn with us and let’s use technology to make a better world.