Download MP3 [35:50]
Here's what the AASWSW website says about the Grand Challenge Initiative:
"The Grand Challenges for Social Work represent a dynamic social agenda, focused on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping create a more just society. Explore each of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work below:"
Ensure healthy development for all youth
Close the health gap
Stop family violence
Advance long and productive lives
Eradicate social isolation
Create social responses to a changing environment
Harness technology for social good
Promote smart decarceration
Reduce extreme economic inequality
Build financial capability for all
Achieve equal opportunity and justice
Download MP3 [35:50]
Bio(from his faculty profile at UMB)
Richard P. Barth, Ph.D. is the President, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and Dean and Professor of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. He has previously served as a chaired professor at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Berkeley. His AB, MSW, and PHD are from Brown University and UC Berkeley, respectively.
His 12 books (all co-authored ore edited except the first) Preventing Adolescent Abuse (1992), From Child Abuse to Permanency Planning: Pathways Through Child Welfare Services (1992), Families Living with Drugs and HIV (1993), The Tender Years: Toward Developmentally-Sensitive Child Welfare Services (1998), The Child Welfare Challenge (1992, 2000, 2008), Beyond Common Sense: Child Welfare, Child-Well-Being, and the Evidence for Policy Reform (2006), and How Foster Care Works: International Perspectives (2010). He has also authored more than 200 book chapters and articles which are frequently cited.
He was the 1986 winner of the Frank Breul Prize for Excellence in Child Welfare Scholarship from the University of Chicago; a Fulbright Scholar in 1990 (Sweden) and 2006 (Australia); the 1998 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Research from the National Association of Social Workers; the 2005 winner of the Flynn Prize for Research; and the 2007 winner of the Peter Forsythe Award for Child Welfare Leadership from the American Public Human Services Association, and winner of the Distinguished Achievement Award by the Society for Social Work and Research. He is a Fellow and President of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. He currently sits on numerous national research advisory boards including those of the Durham Family Initiative, the California Evidence Based Practice Clearinghouse, and the Prevention and Family Recover Initiative.
He has directed more than 50 studies and perhaps, most significantly, served as Principal Investigator of Berkeley’s Child Welfare Research Center from 1990 to 1996 and as Co-Principal Investigator of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, the first national study of child welfare services in the US. He has served as a lecturer and consultant to universities and governments in many states and countries. He has been honored to testify before Congressional and state government sub-committees.
In 1900, a mathematician named David Hilbert identified 23 unsolved math problems he thought the field of mathematics should focus on in the 20th century [http://www2.clarku.edu/~djoyce/hilbert/]. The problems he identified were complex, and in his estimation, solvable. In a lecture delivered before the International Congress of Mathematicians at Paris in 1900, he said, “a mathematical problem should be difficult in order to entice us, yet not completely inaccessible, lest it mock at our efforts. It should be to us a guide post on the mazy paths to hidden truths, and ultimately a reminder of our pleasure in the successful solution.” The idea that Grand Challenges should be difficult yet solvable has become a cornerstone of all subsequent Grand Challenge initiatives. The impact of Hilbert’s “Grand Challenge” for the field of mathematics cannot be underestimated. And since it worked out so well for Hilbert to give a talk on problems he hasn’t solved, the next time I’m asked to give a talk I’m just going to list a bunch of things I haven’t gotten done. I’ve got way more than 23 on my list. Epic keynote. Call me if you’re interested. Operators are standing by.
So, fast forward to 2003, when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation revived the idea of the Grand Challenge, identifying 14 Grand Challenges in Global Health. There have been several subsequent Grand Challenge initiatives, including the 14 Grand Challenges proposed by the National Academy of Engineering in 2008.
The story of how the Grand Challenge concept came to social work begins the way of many social work stories– with food and friends. One spring day in 2011, three social work deans, Rick Barth, the University of Maryland Baltimore, Eddie Uehara, from the University of Washington, and Marilyn Flynn, of the University of Southern California met for lunch. Here’s Dean Barth: [GC lunch clip]. The next summer, in August 2011, and I’m quoting from one of the Grand Challenge papers (Identifying and Tackling Grand Challenges for Social Work), “a small group of social work faculty, deans, and leaders of national social work organizations gathered together at the IslandWood Conference Center on Bainbridge Island, Washington, to grapple with social work’s role in shaping 21st century society… By the end of the day, participants were in agreement that the creation of a grand challenges for social work initiative might both galvanize the profession and create transdisciplinary communities of innovators who work together on to accomplish shared and compelling societal goals.” (Uehara et al, 2015, p. 3).
If it isn’t obvious by now, today’s social work podcast is about the Grand Challenge Initiative for Social Work. You might be thinking, “I deal with grand challenges every day. Suicide, relapse, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, IPV, neglect… yeah, I got it. ” Yes, you do. And I’m pretty sure that today’s guest, Dr. Richard Barth, the president of the AASWSW and Dean and Professor of UMB SSW and everyone else involved in the initiative hopes that when you hear what the 12 grand challenges are, you think “oh yeah, those are my challenges too.”
So, what does the AASWSW say about the Grand Challenges? According to the website, it is a
“groundbreaking initiative to champion social progress powered by science. It’s a call to action for all of us to work together to tackle our nation’s toughest social problems. For more than a century, social workers have been transforming our society. Social work interventions doubled the number of babies who survived in the early twentieth century, helped millions out of poverty from the Great Depression to today, and assisted people with mental illness through de-institutionalization, aftercare, treatment, and advocacy.
Today our society faces serious, interrelated, and large-scale challenges—violence, substance abuse, environmental degradation, injustice, isolation, and inequality. We need social workers’ unique blend of scientific knowledge and caring practice more than ever.”
There are 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work organized under three broad areas:
- Individual and family well-being,
- A stronger social fabric, and
- A just society that fights exclusion and marginalization, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers pathways for social and economic progress.
The 12 Grand Challenges are:
Here's the video that the AASWSW created to explain the Grand Challenge Initiative:
I've thought a lot about the Grand Challenges Initiative. Remember that one called “Harness Technology for Social Good"? I coauthored one of the two papers for that Grand Challenge with Stephanie Berzin from Boston College and Chitat Chan from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Because of my involvement with the Grand Challenge paper, I've had a lot of conversations with current and future scholars about the idea of Grand Challenges, and the specific papers that have been written as part of the current initiative. Here are my totally non-scientific poll results of what people think about the initiative: A couple of folks have been really excited about the Grand Challenges. Most have been skeptical. Since we'll be hearing from one of the most vocal proponents of the Grand Challenge initiative in today's episode, I wanted to mention some of the criticisms.
- Lots of folks I've talked to have questioned how the topics were chosen. The most frequent critique is that they are biased towards the research agendas of the Academy fellows, rather than a reflection of the scholarship of the profession as a whole.
- The Grand Challenges don't map on to most people's areas of research or practice. For example, I specialize in working with suicidal youth. My research could fit under ensuring healthy development for all youth, closing the health gap, eradicating social isolation, harnessing technology, and reducing extreme economic inequality. So if I wanted to do what the website says and “join the grand challenges for social work” would I join all of them?
- The Grand Challenges seem to be written for and by scholars. The Grand Challenges would have looked different if they had been developed by practitioners or educators.
- What if the Grand Challenge isn’t coming up with new solutions to problems, but rather to overcoming barriers to implementing existing problems?
- People are concerned that the 10 year time frame is arbitrary and is more likely to fail than succeed. What happens if in 10 years nothing has changed - or if it has it won't have anything to do with the Grand Challenge Imitative? According to a 2014 article in the Economist [http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21623581-gates-foundations-grand-challenges-global-health-programme-decade-old], after 10 years and $1 billion dollars none of the projects funded under the Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges” banner has yet made a significant contribution to saving lives and improving health in the developing world.
Here's what people like about the Grand Challenge initiative:
- It could be a unifying project for social work scholars, policy makers, educators and practitioners.
- It could be a way to bring scholars from other professions to the social work table. Dr. Barth will talk more about this, but I will say that I have been more intentional about seeking out and engaging with physicists, computer programmers, etc since I started working on the technology Grand Challenge paper.
- It could help to focus a profession that is known as a Jack or Jacqueline of all trades. Because of my involvement on the technology paper, I have had more of an interest in identifying and documenting exactly what the role of technology is in social work, and what social work's role should be in developing and using technology. I've had conversations with social work scholars, practitioners and educators around the world about what the next steps are. I know this wouldn't have happened without the Grand Challenge Initiative.
- It could make it easier to market social work. I'll be the first to admit that the phrase "Harness Technology for Social Good" is a much better headline than "We do lots of stuff with technology so that people have better lives."
I was very glad to have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Richard Barth about the Grand Challenge Initiative. This is the point in the introduction where I usually give a brief bio of my guest, but Dr. Barth’s accomplishments are so extensive that his short bio is an entire page long. To learn more about his zillions of awards, publications, and achievements, please check out the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare website. Dr. Barth and I spoke at the January 2016 Society for Social Work and Research conference in Washington, DC. The conference theme was Grand Challenges. I was at the conference to record interviews for the podcast and to present one of the two working papers for the Grand Challenge of Harnessing Technology for Social Good. There were tons of events having to do with the GC. There are a couple of times in the interview when he mentions some upcoming conference events having to do with the GCs. I was there. They happened.
In today’s interview I asked Dr. Barth if there was a plan to bring practitioners, educators and policy makers on board with the Grand Challenge initiatives – he said they were already on board. I asked him to walk us through a Grand Challenge topic – he picked the challenge of Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth. I asked him if he hopes the Grand Challenge Initiative will make more funding available to the profession – he said that he hopes for more resources, not just funding. I asked him if he thought doctoral students should hitch their wagons to the Grand Challenges. He was very diplomatic, but basically said “yes.” I asked him about the challenges coordinating between the major social work organizations, NASW which represents practitioners, CSWE which represents educators, and SSWR which represents researchers. He said he’s never seen organizations working together so closely as they have with the Grand Challenges. I asked him if there were topics that people would be surprised to find out were not Grand Challenge topics. He said, there were several and then explained why. As an author of a Grand Challenge paper, I know that we were asked to conceptualize what could be accomplished in the next 10 years. So I asked Dr. Barth what he hoped he would be able to say at the 10 year anniversary event of the Grand Challenges.
And now, without further ado, on to episode 103 of the Social Work Podcast: The Grand Challenges for Social Work: Interview with Dr. Richard P. Barth.
APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast:
Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2016, March 28). #103 - The Grand Challenges for Social Work: Interview with Dr. Richard P. Barth [Audio Podcast]. Social Work Podcast. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkpodcast.com/2016/03/grand-challenges.html