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Big Ideas for Social Work in the Making

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 @ 10:10AM

In my previous blog post, I noted that former Congressman and social worker Ron Dellums stressed that social work was in need of a big idea that would galvanize the entire profession.  It has been brought to my attention by Allie Boston at the University of Southern California that the quest for big ideas for the social work profession is already underway.  Led by one of her professors, John Brekke, at the University of Southern California School of Social Work and Rowena Fong, a professor at the University of Texas School of Social Work who serve as co-chairs of the Grand Challenges Executive Committee for the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), their Grand Challenge Initiative was launched earlier this month.

Rick Barth2

Dr. Richard Barth

The Grand Challenge Initiative was launched by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare under the leadership of AASWSW President Richard Barth who is dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland.  The Grand Challenges Committee and the Academy’s fellows are a veritable Who’s Who of social work.   The AASWSW wants to identify a dozen Grand Challenges facing social work that can be addressed in a meaningful way during the next decade.  They ask that Grand Challenge ideas be “big, important and compelling” and that scientific evidence exists that they can be solved.  Solutions should spur interdisciplinary collaboration and generate innovation.  More details about the Grand Challenge Initiative is available this article in the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.

The grand challenge concept goes back to the beginning of the 20th century when Greek mathematician David Hilbert devised a list of 23 unsolved mathematical puzzles that challenged the field of mathematics for decades.  Other disciplines and organizations in economic and social development, chemistry, and environmental science have embraced the grand challenge approach to tackle some of the world most problems.  The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched a grand challenge initiative of its own seeking to identify grand challenges for the nation.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative in 2003 to generate innovative ideas to solve the most pressing health problems plaguing the planet.

Social workers should appreciate this new organization.  Born out of the idea that social work researchers, educators, and leaders deserve recognition for their outstanding contributions to the profession and society at large, AASWSW was launched in November 2009 with a mission to (as stated on its website):

  • Encourage and recognize outstanding research, scholarship, and practice that contribute to a sustainable, equitable, and just future.
  • Inform social policy by serving as a frontline source of information for the social work profession as well as Congress and other government agencies and non-government entities charged with advancing the public good.
  • Promote the examination of social policy and the application of research to test alternative policies, programs, and practices for their impact on society.
  • Celebrate excellence in social work and social welfare research, education, and practice.

To date 57 fellows have been inducted into the academy.  It is essentially the Hall of Fame for social work scholars and leaders.  The prospect of becoming a fellow will motivate others to go the extra mile in their work because they know they will be recognized for their achievements.  This can only enhance the value of social work research and education.  CRISP is proud to have four members of our Advisory Board who are AASWSW fellows and three of my professors have been inducted into AASWSW.  I am proud to be in the company of so many exceptional social workers.

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2 Comments to "Big Ideas for Social Work in the Making" add comment
Rick Barth
November 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Thanks for your shout out to Grand Challenges, Charles. We are just now announcing that the website is OPEN for sbubmitting grand challenges at, http://aaswsw.org/grand-challenges-initiative/

This effort began in the winter of 2012 and has now reached the point where we have an Executive Committee, website, and a roadmap to try this approach to invigorating our profession and endeavoring to focus its work on very strategic and achievable challenges. We also have some reading materials about Grand Challenges linked to that website.

Our hope is that these challenges will improve the capacity of social work to bring the best science to bear on the most important and addressable problems of this decade and make significant headway on them. I hope your readers will find this of interest and take the time to submit a grand challenge during the next few months. We look forward to building on the big ideas that are submitted.

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