A positive and challenging year

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Message from the CEO

photograph of Dwight Hymans
ASWB CEO Dwight J. Hymans, MSW, LCSW, ACSW

Every year I am surprised when December arrives. It seems to get here faster each year. But maybe that’s more connected to my age than to time speeding up. So here we are on the edge of a new year. It’s almost time to close the door on 2021. And what a year it has been for ASWB. In my leadership message at the annual meeting, I suggested that 2021 was both a very positive and a very challenging year. I think most of the staff at ASWB would agree.

On the positive side, ASWB administered a record number of exams. And as a result of that and an increase in revenue in almost every other ASWB program, the organization will end the year in the strongest financial position on record. The challenging side centers on the assertions by some that the exams are biased and the calls from many groups for additional information about exam performance. But you heard about that during the meeting, and more information will be coming as ASWB pushes it out to our members and the larger social work community in the new year.

One aspect of 2021 that I did not spend a lot of time discussing during my remarks was progress made on the strategic framework that ends this year. We initiated the current framework in 2019 with no awareness at the time that a pandemic was on our doorstep. Just a few short months after delegates affirmed the 2019 – 2021 Strategic Framework, our country and the entire world entered a time of unimagined disruption. No one could have predicted or understood the global impact of COVID-19.

Peter Drucker said, “In the face of uncertainties, planning defines the particular place you want to be and how you intend to get there.” The COVID-19 health pandemic certainly created uncertainty. In spite of the pandemic, ASWB staff continued to focus on the objectives and strategies of the current strategic framework and made significant progress. In August, when the Board of Directors reviewed the current framework as part of the process of creating the next strategic framework, much had been achieved. Of the nine objectives, four had been operationalized and two were ready to be retired. Only three were moved forward to be included as ongoing objectives in the new framework. Good planning had kept ASWB on track despite the uncertainties that came with the pandemic. All of us were pleased with the progress made under the current strategic framework.

But the work of the association must continue to move forward, and a new framework was needed to lead ASWB in the coming years. The Board of Directors, along with key leadership staff, met in August for a daylong planning session to determine the future areas of focus for ASWB. The Board of Directors and I presented the new strategic framework at the annual meeting last month, and delegates overwhelmingly affirmed it. The new two-year framework includes three focus areas, three objectives, and seven strategies.

If you take a close look at the strategic framework you will see that it differs significantly from previous plans because of its focus on the licensing exams. For many years, ASWB strategic priorities have centered on regulation, research, and the development and expansion of ASWB services that are not related to the exam program. ASWB’s exam program has been so stable and solid for the last decade and earlier that it was not seen as a necessary part of strategic development or focus. It has been and continues to be a very solid program for our members. But given the decision made by the Board of Directors to undertake multiple examination program initiatives designed to increase collaboration with the social work community, the exams now need to be a primary focus. Therefore, the exams are part of the new strategic framework, which calls for increased education and transparency. In November, the Board also voted to analyze and release exam performance data broken down by demographics as a first step in working toward this strategic objective.

This shift, or “sea change” as I have dubbed it, means that ASWB needs to spend the next couple of years focusing on how we can contribute to the conversation about institutional racism and looking at whether changes in regulatory processes are needed to ensure that all those who are qualified to be licensed are able to enter the profession. And those potential changes may include the exam program. ASWB needs to take the lead in this discussion, and the new strategic framework positions the organization to do so.

Lest you think that the exams are the only focus, the new framework includes two other major strategic areas: Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice is one, and regulatory standards, that is, monitoring the regulatory landscape to promote consistency in regulation, is the other. Together these three areas of focus position ASWB to be a major part of the important conversations that are part of the profession’s dialogue at this time. And that’s right where we should be.