James Lubben helps to chart an agenda for the 21st century
In the 1980s, according to the National Science Foundation, American policymakers first established “Grand Challenges” in the fields of communication and computing research, essentially setting performance goals meant to respond to international competition within these disciplines.
Since then, similar Challenges have been set more broadly across scientific disciplines in order to, as the White House Office of Science and Technology states, “harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination.” Recently, practitioners and academics from engineering and global health and development have used this rubric to establish how they can best work together, for example, to limit drug resistance and cure infection, or provide access to clean water.
Now, the social work research community is announcing its own Grand Challenges designed to “chart an agenda for social innovation in the 21st century” and engage a next generation of best and brightest in the task of solving some of society’s most pressing social ills. An important contributor to the launch of this innovative initiative, devised by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), is BC School of Social Work Professor James Lubben.
Since the AASWSW charged the executive committee to define the Grand Challenges two and a half years ago, Lubben has been involved in “all aspects of the initiative,” says a fellow committee member and the Ballmer Endowed Dean in Social Work at the University of Washington, Edwina Uehara. This includes: working to develop the overall plan for the national initiative, while devising strategies to engage social work stakeholders. Lubben has also carefully reviewed and assessed dozens of Grand Challenge concept papers and ideas submitted from across the field. Over the coming months, he will continue to get the word out about the Challenges, which were formally proposed in January 2015 at the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) annual meeting. And if all that isn’t enough, he’s part of a team that’s submitted a concept paper to address the challenge of building stronger social connections.
“Behind every successful transformative, complex effort, such as the Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative, there must be multi-talented individuals able to clearly imagine both the blue-sky vision and the earth that must be tilled and traversed to reach that vision,” says Uehara. “Individuals who put shoulder to wheel, who are willing and able to tackle obstacles, big and small, who inspire and support others to keep focused on the big picture while slogging through the inevitable conundrums and stumbling blocks are a part of any important project. Jim was such an individual for the Grand Challenge Initiative.”