Be The Change Through Social Work’s Technological Grand Challenge

Over the past several decades, huge advances in technology have changed the way we live. It’s likely that you own a smartphone and a tablet, and stay in touch over social media, texting, and video conferencing more often than making traditional phone calls. What if you could take this technology and use it to help society’s most vulnerable?

This leads us to the AASWSW’s Social Work Grand Challenge for August:

Grand Challenge #8: Harness Technology For Social Good

Many of you probably already use technology in some form to help your clients and learn. If you use online software to input your client notes or turn in your social work papers using an online school program, you’re using technological advances. But the AASWSW believes that social work is behind other fields in the implementation of technology to help the people we serve.

Two areas they believe social workers could up their use of technology include in direct practice with clients and, at the macro level, by gaining more knowledge about populations through big data.

Technology and Direct Practice

Currently, the majority of social work practice still uses tried-and-true traditional methods of working with clients, such as seeing clients in their office or calling them on the phone. Through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the AASWSW suggests that we can have greater ability to help the people we serve.

With ICT software like videoconferencing and apps, we can work with previously hard to reach clients, for example, clients who live far away and have difficulty coming to appointments in person. Using technology like text messaging and apps also makes it easier to remind clients about their appointment.

Other aspects of ICT also show potential. In some studies, programs such as tetris and virtual gaming have helped minimize substance abuse relapse and symptoms of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. Finally, technology such as podcasts and videoconferencing have the potential to transform social work programs.

Technology and Big Data

For-profit companies have used big data for years. Massive sets of anonymized data teaches them about customer purchasing patterns that can help them market accurately to various population segments. The AASWSW argues that greater access to big data can help us learn more about the populations we serve.

Currently, one of the biggest concerns with using big data in the field is protecting client data, including not violating HIPAA. With collaboration with other disciplines and development of a framework to use big data, the AASWSW believes a safe and effective approach is possible. Used properly, big data has the potential to help us work toward greater social good by teaching us about the immediate realities of social challenges such as poverty.

What You Can Do

Start out by getting a first look at this innovative new approach to social work. The AASWSW published two reports, Practical Innovation through Technology in the Digital Age and Harnessing Big Data for Social Good, on their Grand Challenges page:

As either a student or practitioner, you can advocate to bring this type of learning into your classroom or workplace. If you’re enrolled in a social work program, let your professors and directors know about this new approach and how it can help your clients. As a practitioner, speak to your supervisor and see if your workplace will send you to training about these new approaches.

As a field, social work can continue to grow in ways that serve our communities even better, and you can be at the forefront of these movements by staying an informed advocate.