“Only psychoanalysis and social science together can eventually chart the life cycle interwoven throughout the history of the community.” – Eric H. Erikson
Ford Rowan utilizes social science methods to understand the roots of conflict and to identify possible paths to resolution. This work started when he was in private practice and helped corporate clients implement effective organizational change initiatives to overcome dysfunctional behaviors.
His early efforts at his former firm in Washington, Rowan and Blewitt, involved redesigning a client’s internal communication systems to reconcile the merger of two large but culturally different companies. Ford utilized focus groups, surveys and interviews to analyze and align values and expectations during economic turmoil at a number of corporate clients. For example, several decades ago he helped focus on job retraining in labor-management issues stemming from automobile plant closings.
In the 1990s he and his partner, Rich Blewitt, created a research unit, the Center for Communication Dynamics. It pioneered electronic message testing using computer methodologies to gauge the reactions of focus group participants to alternative approaches to problem solving. The use of evidence-based communication techniques helped in the training of executives and employees and enhanced organizational change efforts.
Advanced social science methods proved useful in many applications. When Ford chaired the National Center for Critical Incident Analysis in Washington, D.C., the center’s research on health emergencies helped inform preparations for the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009. Prior to the pandemic the center collaborated with the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University in 2006 on how to communicate information to the public during a major health crisis. Ford’s report was entitled, “Lessons from media coverage of Katrina, SARS, and the anthrax attacks.” The NCCIA advised federal agencies and provided training to state officials (through the National Governors Association) prior to the outbreak of disease. The NCCIA also convened conferences on bioterrorism, political violence, cybersecurity, emergency preparedness, and lessons from natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In 2020 he advised on ways to heal society in COVID-19 and wrote commentaries on how to deal with stress and prepare to return to work and school.
Ford has advised corporate clients undertaking research on genetic modification and neuroscientific advances. Bioethics research may prevent a rush to modify the human genome that could lead to a rebirth of eugenics and the racism that plagued Germany during the Hitler era. Ford is active on the advisory board of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.
Ford’s interest in ethics, organizational behavior, change management, and conflict resolution led to his work internationally with a group of psychiatrists and psychologists. Under the leadership of Vamik Volkan, John Alderdice and Robi Friedman they founded the International Dialogue Initiative to find peaceful solutions to conflicts between large groups in the Middle East. This secular group involves persons from different faith traditions and nationalities. The IDI has partnered with several European universities and has initiated a training program for those who practice psychotherapy and counselling.
Ford believes in evidence-based approaches to problem solving. For example, he helped initiate a pilot reentry program for the Kairos Prison Ministry in Maryland that was based on studies that show what has worked (and what did not work) to help those released from prison find ways to avoid recidivism and protect society from more crime. Of the first 51 returning citizens mentored in the program, only three ended back in prison. Ford plans to expand the mentoring program (now separately incorporated as the Street Reentry Program of Maryland) and hopes to introduce online educational programs in prison, something that has stalled in Maryland.
Educational institutions are slow to adjust to technological and social change and Ford has helped several implement change initiatives. He has served on the boards of six educational entities. One of Ford’s current research interests is the transgenerational transmission of trauma in inner-city Baltimore, the potential for educational interventions, and criminal justice reform.