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Could social labs be the answer to solving complex community problems?

January 20, 2016 Article 1 min read
Here's what Zaid Hassan, author of The Social Labs Revolution, had to say during the 2015–2016 Strategic Leadership Series event, sponsored by Plante Moran.

How good are our strategies at addressing complex community problems? Are there better ways that we can come together to solve our most complex challenges? In early December, the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University invited Zaid Hassan, author of The Social Labs Revolution, to address these questions as the speaker of the first 2015–2016 Strategic Leadership Series event, sponsored by Plante Moran. In addition to the lecture, many local nonprofit leaders had the privilege of working with Hassan as part of a Strategic Leadership Series master class in which they explored ways to make meaningful improvements for citizens of West Michigan.

Zaid proposed that, just as one might have a scientific lab to research possible cures for cancer, social labs could be designed to address our social challenges.

Zaid has over a decade of experience in developing strategic responses to complex social challenges, including aboriginal issues, climate change, child malnutrition, employment, energy, financial systems, global food systems, and security issues.

Social labs, he says, have three unique features: a socially diverse team, work that is experimental in nature, and the intention of addressing challenges at a systems level and at root cause. Zaid says it’s simple: “Bring together a diverse, committed team and take an experimental, prototyping-based approach to addressing challenges systematically…” Zaid believes that the presence of a social lab results in an increased capacity to address social challenge. Zaid challenged the nonprofit CEO participants to ask the question, “What’s driving what I’m seeing?” and to ask the underlying questions about what’s really happening.

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s Strategic Leadership Series engages nonprofit professionals and the larger philanthropic community to encourage the development of a diverse, equitable, and local ecosystem that supports entrepreneurialism when addressing critical social issues.

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