For many, the new year signals a fresh start. A clean slate. The opportunity to think or act differently. What if we applied this same mindset to human services technology?
What if we stopped feeling restricted by outdated systems, processes, and policies, and focused instead on what we can do today that we couldn’t do in the past?
Think about a world where integrated service delivery, cross-agency collaboration, machine-assisted social work, and whole-person care are the norm.
With fewer barriers between programs, people, and policies, what technology might exist to impact the practice in ways we’ve never considered before?
In preparation for a presentation on how technology will change social work, we asked some of Northwoods’ industry and technology experts to share their ideas of what we may see in the future.
Here are some of the possibilities we discussed:
- Alexa for social work—Technology could surface and summarize relevant information about a family on the worker’s way to a home visit, answering questions like: Can you read me the notes from my last visit? What other cases are they or have they been involved in since then? Are their updates from other programs or service providers that have supported this family?
- Systems as storytellers—Workers won’t have to sort through different systems, applications, or channels to connect the dots to understand a family’s whole story; instead, the information that’s most timely and relevant will be presented to them through a single pane of glass. (Read more: Systems as Storytellers: Connecting People and Technology to Boost Collaboration)
- Care team coordination and collaboration—An app that will allow multidisciplinary teams to coordinate services, set goals for participants, create and assign milestones, send and receive updates, and track progress. It’ll also facilitate real-time collaboration—for example, the team could address problems and crises as they arise, instead of waiting until the next team meeting. (Read more: 5 Problems Social Workers on Multi-Disciplinary Teams Face)
- Self-selected services—An app or portal could help someone access support services, such as submitting a housing voucher request or child care request, within minutes the same way Uber can help someone get home at the end of the night. The client could self-select what they need and what they don’t (their care team or service providers would be notified) and be able to initiate and steer their own way through the process.
- Holistic family profiles—Once a family’s whole story has been pieced together, artificial intelligence would identify other services they may qualify for or recommend additional programs that might help them succeed.
- Skills matching for cases and caseworkers—With a better understanding of family or case histories, activities, and outcomes, technology could help identify the caseworker best equipped to manage each new case based on their success or experience with similar cases in the past.
- “Nanny 911” for caregivers—Caregivers could use an app to identify nearby child care options when they need help. This could mitigate recidivism by ensuring lack of child care doesn’t cause caregivers to miss work, treatments, or other appointments. Plus, caseworkers would be able to monitor and proactively engage caregivers who may need additional support.
- Risk analysis and safety scoring—Leveraging data points from multiple systems, technology could analyze risk factors in a specific location (e.g., a neighborhood or home) based on crime rates, law incidents, or fire arm ownership. Field workers (e.g., child welfare or housing) and their supervisors would see a safety score before responding to an incident report to make better decisions about how or when to enter a home or setting to protect their personal safety.
- Self-processing audio recordings—A voice-based system could record, summarize, and transcribe the information that’s needed for case management systems after a meeting or conversation. For example, who attended a family team meeting and what topics or actions were discussed? What deadlines were set? What were the goals of their safety plan?
- Virtual administrative assistants—Technology would take care of administrative tasks, such as triggering notifications or task reminders, so the worker can focus on high-value activities. For example, it would automatically download case files or forms to a caseworker’s tablet before they head out for the day’s visits.
This new year, I encourage you to think bigger: if there were no limits or restrictions, what technology could have the biggest impact on your workers, agency, and community?
I look forward to hearing your ideas!