Social Work Health Futures Lab

Become part of a new national social work health futures lab learning collaborative to discover, learn, create and contribute to helping health-social work to be ready for the future.

Social Work Health Future Lab

A national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Portland State University School of Social Work, and the Institute for the Future focused on giving health-related social workers the skills they need to co-create a healthier and more equitable future using futures thinking and foresight practice.

Program Overview


 The Social Work Health Futures Lab will be an 18-month long exploration, collaborative learning network, fellowship, and playground to consider how a “foresight lens” might accelerate and improve the impact of social workers who work, do research, or teach in health and health-related areas of practice. Special attention will be paid to cultivating greater ability to navigate uncertainty and turbulence in the practice environment, engage communities in co-creating their futures, explore emerging trends and dynamics, and launch a more future-ready next generation of the health social work workforce. Being ready for the future is more than just asking simple questions. It is a disciplined way of organizing, imagining, and planning ideas – and is best done in a community of people who will push each other to question assumptions, explore ethical challenges and commit to opening new possibilities for thinking and practicing across the profession.

 This community will intentionally include fellows who are looking at different elements of futures challenges. Some folks will be focused on climate change, others on food security, others on bioethics, racism embedded in emerging technologies, and many others. The goal of the Lab is to create spaces to foster intentional cross-fertilization, shared discovery, and meaningful contributions to intentionally evolving health-anchored social work thought and practice.

 Common interests and themes will be a commitment to anti-racist principles, the social work code of ethics, and other cutting edge social work practice spaces such as the Social Work Grand Challenges.  Interdisciplinary engagement with engineering and other sciences, the arts, other social sciences, and from a deep variety of perspectives are welcomed.

Twenty to twenty-five social work educators and leaders with diverse identities and interests will be selected through a competitive process to be named Social Work Education Health Futures Fellows for an 18-month term beginning  December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2022.

Establish a national network of future-facing health social work innovators.

Co-create and contribute to a national learning network focused on anti-racist, equitable, and intersectionally relevant emerging and innovative possibilities and practices for social work and health.

Develop an international map of future-related social work innovation and thought.

Elevate and amplify the work of social work health futures lab fellows, and other social workers and other disciplines/sectors breaking new ground in these areas.

Explore the future of artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things and other tech as it applies to health social work action spaces (including algorithmic racism and tools to combat it).

Learn from each other and together from futurists about cutting edge frameworks and tools related to the social determinants of health in social work.

Engage in intentional learning about the future of health, health care, and social aspects of health and well-being as impacted by global and local trends. Contribute to meaningful and impactful critique and design in these spaces.

Make recommendations to CSWE regarding what social work educational curriculum of the future should look like and contain.

Invite and encourage national dialogue among social workers and social work academics on how to infuse futures frameworks to increase effectiveness and preparedness in achieving SDOH-related future practice readiness across the profession.

Explore climate change and climate justice, geopolitical shifts now and in the future, economic models of the future and transition to them as they relate to health and well-being.

Explore the future of work and the future of government, as examples of intersections with the future of health.