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Laura Burney Nissen

Presidential Futures Fellow and Professor, Portland State University

Special Lecture—Tuesday, November 17

Social Work Education and Practice in Postnormal Times: Using Futures Thinking to Move the Field and the World Forward

What does it look like to be "ready" for what happens next? Postnormal times refers to a time when some of our old ways are falling away (not without a fight), new ones are being born, and everything feels out of balance. And many suggest—we are there. As we navigate uncertainty, volatility, and transition in the world around us in the months and years to come - what is social work's role in building the new world we aspire to?

Futures thinking and its affiliated practice, foresight, is a way of moving through uncertainty and unpredictable futures in ways that cultivate collective imagination, intelligence, and agility. Issues of racism and equity, climate change, rapidly proliferating technologies, predatory economics, misinformation campaigns, and a sea of both challenges and opportunities to build human health are but a few of the markers in the landscape of social work in the future. Our profession has an enormous potential role to play in participating in the healing and reimagining a better and more equitable world. But this can only happen if we evolve to meet the challenges ahead of us, as are other professions such as medicine, law and journalism. This session will challenge social workers and educators to find our "growing edges" in the learning and development work we need to do to be ready for the opportunities in the coming years.

About Laura Burney Nissen

Former Dean and current Professor Laura Burney Nissen has been a member of the Portland State University (PSU) and School of Social Work community since 2000. She is currently the inaugural Presidential Futures Fellow at PSU. She began her tenure at PSU in a leadership role with the national Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative Reclaiming Futures, which still operates in the Regional Research Institute in the School of Social Work.  

With a long-term commitment to innovative systems change, Laura has worked with futures practice and lenses throughout her career. Her research portfolio includes a focus on creativity and innovation in macro level social work systems change. She credits a futures lens with the extended and continuous success of the Reclaiming Futures initiative and its ability to energize and provide architecture to a complex and interdisciplinary juvenile justice reform effort extending a decade beyond its original demonstration phase. 

She has brought futures thinking into the School of Social Work in the form of the first strategic plan at the school in its 55-year history. She is a foresight practitioner and a research fellow with the Institute for the Future and has spoken on futures thinking in social work and social change at the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work and in numerous social work education and community spaces. She has taught and done research in a variety of social work/social change practice areas including addiction practice, equity and social justice, social work and the arts, lifelong learning for social work, and macro social work. She is the founder of the Social Work Health Futures Lab. Follow Nissen on Twitter. For additional information about her work, please visit the Social Work Health Futures Lab website and the Social Work Futures blog.