The Social Labs Revolution : A New Approach To Solving Our Most Complex Challenges
Foreword by Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab
“Hassan blends a clarity of vision, and a refusal to pretend that simple solutions are adequate to address complex problems, with practical examples of what can be done. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone whose ambition is to change the systems that perpetuate poverty and inequality rather than just to mitigate the symptoms.”
– Kate Wareing, Head of Innovation & Learning, Oxfam GB
People often ask, “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we solve global hunger?” That very question demonstrates the fatal flaw in the dominant way of dealing with difficult social challenges: they’re treated like straightforward technical problems. Organizations do a few studies, establish some goals, devise a plan, and attempt implementation. As a look around the world sadly shows, this hasn’t worked.
Issues like poverty, ethnic conflict, and climate change are incredibly dynamic and complex, involving an ever-shifting array of factors, actors, and circumstances. They demand a more fluid and adaptive approach. Social labs are a more effective approach.
Social Labs bring together a diverse a group of stakeholders not to create yet more five-year plans but to develop a portfolio of prototype solutions, test those solutions in the real world, use the data to further refine them, and test them again. Their orientation is systemic—they are designed to go beyond dealing with symptoms and parts to get at the root cause of why things are not working.
Hassan builds on a decade of experience—as well as drawing from cutting-edge research in complexity science, networking theory, and sociology—to explain the core principles and daily functioning of social labs, using examples of pioneering labs from around the world. He describes a fast-growing global movement around a new generation of ambitious social labs that are tackling big challenges such as dramatically reducing global emissions, preventing the collapse of fragile states, and improving community resilience. The Social Labs Revolution offers a new generation of problem solvers an effective, practical, and exciting new vision and guide.
Need more convincing?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PREFACE /NOTES FROM A PRACTICING HEART
INTRODUCTION / WHAT ARE SOCIAL LABORATORIES?
What does it mean to be winning?
Playing in the World Cup
The scale-free laboratory
A cascade of social labs
CHAPTER 1 /THE PERFECT STORM OF COMPLEXITY
The perfect challenge
What is a complex social challenge?
The futile optimism of optimization
Yemen as a natural experiment
Too big to fail, too big to jail
CHAPTER 2 / THE STRATEGIC VACUUM
Business as usual
The expert-planning paradigm
Flying autopilot in the perfect storm
A lack of genuine strategic intent
CHAPTER 3 / THE SUSTAINABLE FOOD LAB: FROM FARM-TO-FORK
The Bhavishya Alliance
The race to the bottom
The multiple and conflicting logics of food
What is sustainable?
Systemic spread betting
CHAPTER 4 / THE BHAVISHYA LAB: THE SILENT EMERGENCY
The moon shot
Movement requires friction
Fail early, fail often
Business as usual and its radical refusals
CHAPTER 5 /THE NEW ECOLOGIES OF CAPITAL
Emerging forms of capital and preventing collapse
The dumbest idea in the world
More rainforests, fewer plantations
CHAPTER 6 / THE RISE OF THE AGILISTAS
The practical wisdom of social labs
Starting with current realities
Events rupture dispositions
The right stuff
CHAPTER 7/ STEPS TOWARD A THEORY OF SYSTEMIC ACTION
1st requirement: Constitute a diverse team
2nd requirement: Design an iterative process
3rd requirement: Actively create systemic spaces
CHAPTER 8 / STARTING A SOCIAL LAB: 7 HOW-TOS
Strategic versus tactical thinking
#1 Clarify intention
#2 Broadcast an invitation
#3 Work your networks
#4 Recruit willing people
#5 Set direction
#6 Design in stacks
#7 Find cadence
CONCLUSION / NEXT-GENERATION SOCIAL LABORATORIES
Averting the zombie apocalypse
State collapse: A stabilization strategy
Climate change: A mitigation strategy
Community resilience: An adaptation strategy
The battle of the parts versus the whole