by Monica A. Ross, LPC
I guess I’ve decided. At least for now. I want to incorporate into these posts some of the things I’m learning in the doctoral program. Or maybe I should just say, let’s see how this goes. Let’s start by talking about the 12 Grand Challenges of Social Work. What do I mean by the 12 Grand Challenges?
The grand challenge concept was developed by a mathematician named David Hilbert. At a conference in 1900 he presented 23 different mathematical problems to a group of international mathematicians that had been up until that point unsolved. He challenged his colleagues to tackle these problems for the future of mathematics.
Great idea, right? It galvanized efforts. Were all of the problems solved? Well, some were solved quickly, some took time, some of the questions themselves were too abstract, and some of the problems still as of yet have not been solved.
Throughout time there have been other groups that have taken on the concept of the grand challenges in mobilizing efforts for their industry. And back in January of 2016 The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) announced the 12 Grand Challenges of Social Work as a call to action for all social workers.
This doctoral program that I’m in at USC is centered around this concept of the grand challenges for social work. Grand challenges typically have similar characteristics. For example, they are big concept ideas that we all can recognize as important or pressing issues in society.
They are also issues that we can use research and academic study to resolve. The solutions we come up with are often ones that come about through partnerships between organizations. And they are often things that we can make progress on in a relatively short time frame—within the next 10 years or so.
My attention is drawn to challenge 11 which is “achieve equal opportunity and justice.” I chose this one because to me it serves as the underpinning of all of the other challenges.
If we in social work are to tackle these other grand challenges, we’re doing so from the perspective that there are people in society who deserve just as much opportunity and aren’t getting it. To be able to provide greater opportunity for those in need seems the by-product of a more just society.
How people make meaning and find inspiration and also how thoughts and feelings influence behavior are of great interest to me. It’s the focus of the work that I do in private practice.
I’ve been interested in the topic of social norms and stigmatized identities for some time, as well. With my transition into the healthcare field, it seems natural to me then to focus the lens on health disparities in particular.
It’s hard not to bring up the issue of health disparities without bringing up the concomitant issue of poverty. Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir talk about the social issue of poverty but they do so within the framework of an underlying principle that predicts behavior—something they call the scarcity mind-set.
I was having a discussion about this yesterday with a friend. I throw out the phrase scarcity mind-set and it might bring a whole host of other associations. The word scarcity might make a person think of words like survival, lack of resources, lean, tough, tenacious, dearth, or of a visual something like the desert.
When I say mind-set, words like worldview, cultural frame of reference, setting one’s mind on something, motivation, personal approach might come to mind. When talking about the scarcity mind-set it’s more than a discussion, though, of how to get people to think in terms of abundance vis-à-vis law-of-attraction style.
It’s hard to tell the person who has to take a 2-hour bus ride from far south Austin to far north Austin in commuter traffic to think in terms of abundance when they have $1.15 in their pocket. Maybe they are traveling to make a mandated court appointment and have only change until they get paid in 2 days. Maybe they have no one to ask for a ride and Uber offers to charge $54. For reasons like this and others, people tap into options like short-term loans.
Having said that, there are psychological factors at play that both contribute to and perpetuate pervasive problems in society and we do have tools at our disposal that people can use to tackle problems on a personal level. To me, it’s going to take a combination of both psychological tools and resources, and material tools and resources to bring about greater change.
I want to do further work that makes linkages and connections between predictors for behavior on the psychological side, while at the same time thinking about ways of solving these bigger picture questions of how to make life easier for people and not more difficult, especially on the most vulnerable.
In this first course on social innovation, we’re talking about how social innovation even comes about. If we know there to be social norms in society that are perpetuating problems, it seems logical then that it will take deviating from those norms to produce a different solution. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”