Andrew Benedict-Nelson

Andrew Benedict-Nelson is a founder and managing director of GreenHouse. Drawing upon his background as an historian and journalist, he has since 2011 worked with his colleagues to deepen his understanding of social norms and social change across a wide variety of sectors. As an Innovator-in-Residence at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, he has played a key role deploying these ideas in the education of future advocates for the greater good. In particular, he has worked to integrate insights into the social determinants of health into the education of health care professionals through the development of the first advanced practice nursing program in a school of social work, which launched in 2016. A writer and editor, his work has appeared in the LA Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and other venues.

Public practice

Increasingly, organizations tackling society’s most pressing problems are run by executives trained in business schools, where they receive no education related to social challenges, social dynamics or the social sector, generally. In response, GreenHouse helped design, develop and launch the nation’s first doctorate in management, leadership and social innovation – at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

The professional doctorate requires students to complete coursework in social and public sector leadership, social sector finance, public discourse, program design and evaluation and social innovation – predicated on GreenHouse’s original work in this area. Students are required to substantively address one of 12 grand challenges facing society, ranging from the human cost of climate change to the impact of stigma.

In its capacity as Innovator in Residence, GreenHouse also developed curricula and content, including casebooks and videos, which are used by faculty and students throughout the program.

Determinedly social

It’s no secret that health care providers need a far better understanding of social factors – like cultural differences, poverty and stigma – just to do their jobs. But to date, these essential factors have been an afterthought in their professional education.

That’s why we worked with the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to develop and launch the first graduate program in nursing oriented toward these factors and the kind of inter-professional collaboration necessary to effectively address them.

The program was shaped by findings in Health Plus Social, a publication we developed to explore the interplay of social determinants and professional education. Dean Marilyn Flynn wrote this in the foreword: “Conditions of poverty, injustice, and broken human relationships provide the etiology for gunshot wounds, delayed development, late-stage diagnosis, and lack of access to care. … Our experts here note that nursing may have more potential than other health professions in bringing power and authority to the idea of social determinants and incorporating this content into training and professional perspectives.”

As Innovator in Residence, we were part of the new graduate nursing program from its inception through the admission of the first cohort of students in August 2016. Our work continues in exploring how these social factors can inform a new research agenda for nursing science and new forms of doctoral education.

Norm, deviant and diffuse

Social innovation is very serious business, with profound human consequences. But it has been largely misinterpreted: as creativity, as an expression of noble character or as a pretense to teach business and entrepreneurial skills. In response, GreenHouse has developed and publicly released a foundational framework for social innovation – called Innovation Dynamics – grounded in both social science and empirical research over seven years of projects in the public, private, social and academic sectors.

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At its core, social innovation involves three steps: revealing the social norm that holds the undesirable conditions in place; identifying or creating a deviant from that norm; and diffusing the deviance through a sufficient number and breadth of reference groups.

The methodology is being taught in universities – including in the first-ever professional doctorate in social innovation – and in the private sector, and is now available to the public.

New norms for science

Since World War II, the United States has developed a powerful medical research enterprise centered on federal funding sources like the National Institutes of Health — often nicknamed “Big Science.” But the norms of Big Science will have to be adjusted if we’re going to help society’s most vulnerable people.

That was the conclusion we took away from the Islandwood Science in Nursing Roundtable, a three-day interdisciplinary gathering where we guided thinkers from nursing, social work, and public health as they reckoned with the social determinants of health. Working in teams, participants developed future scenarios for nursing science, targeting strategic milestones that would need to be achieved in coming decades if we are to address the American population’s most persistent inequities.

“Human subjects research seeks insights into standard models of human bodies and behaviors, just as we’ve always done with fruit flies and barnacles,” Andrew Benedict-Nelson wrote after the event. “But human beings aren’t barnacles — the people who are being left out of standard models matter. We need new ideas about how we can expand the vision of the sciences to include all the people they normally exclude.”

The event was part of our work developing the new graduate nursing program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and was guided by our research into the social determinants of health and professional education.

Meet them where they live

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Mobile clinics could play a transformative role in the health care system — and not just as roving emissaries for hospitals.

That was the conclusion we reached in our work with Harvard Medical School and its own mobile clinic, Family Van. We concluded that the real value of mobile clinics is the way they literally meet patients where they live, upending the social norms of medicine. This helps mobile clinics improve patients’ adherence to treatment and sense of agency in their own care – precious knowledge in a shifting health care system.

“Imagine that we could assign a very attentive graduate student to every mobile clinic” Andrew Benedict-Nelson said in a GOOD Magazine article about our work. “With enough data from a variety of settings, researchers could hypothetically identify the crucial ways in which these health workers help patients feel safe, empowered, and open to medical advice.”

The insights – also captured in an article in Harvard Medical School News – informed our work in the social determinants of health, including development of the graduate nursing program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

How great thou art

 

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The social norms of a museum don’t align particularly well with the rebellious spirit of contemporary art. But we found the right social norms – in all places – at the corporate campus of a financial services company.

The West Collection – one of the nation’s most important collections of work by emerging artists – is housed at SEI, in the Philadelphia suburbs. The campus’s employees, who originally had no particular fondness for contemporary art, now cherish the art in ways few museum visitors ever have.

That is due in large part to revolutionary curatorial practices, such as letting employees choose pieces from the Collection for their workspaces and even allowing employees to “steal” pieces from their colleagues.

We worked alongside the collection’s curators for two years to isolate lessons that could be shared with the rest of the art world. Among our findings: “We need a happy medium between the ‘wild’ of the artist’s studio and the ‘zoo’ of a traditional museum. In this ‘nature preserve’ for art, viewers’ reactions would inform the experience, but the integrity of collections could still be preserved.”

Hearts of children

Virtually everyone agrees that children would benefit from mindfulness training – learning how to be calm, attentive and aware of their thoughts and feelings. But virtually nobody knows how to squeeze mindfulness training into already jam-packed school curricula.

That was at the center of a challenge posed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who in 2004 told a crowd in Vancouver, Canada that the time had come to “educate the hearts and not just the minds of children.” A year later, followers launched the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, which has been trying ever since to integrate mindfulness and public education.

We took up the challenge through our initiative UX for Good, which GreenHouse developed with Jason Ulaszek to enlist top user experience designers from around the world in solving social challenges. Interestingly, the answer we found was unrelated to school curricula and related instead to classroom management. Teachers had independently discovered that they could use mindfulness techniques to more effectively manage disruption and disciplinary issues, leading to quieter, happier classrooms. They were more than happy to share these insights with their colleagues.

This insight led to the Center’s development of Heart-Mind Online, a resource launched to facilitate the sharing of mindfulness resources among teachers and parents.

We have also deployed UX for Good to tackle challenges facing genocide memorials and the livelihood of professional musicians in New Orleans, for which the initiative won the user experience design industry’s top award.

Inhuman capital

Everybody wants school reform. But decade after decade of public debate hasn’t brought us much closer to substantive change. It appears, at least to us, that the problem might be with the debate, itself.

That’s the conclusion we drew from a project called School Is Not School. We drafted and posted online an original, incendiary manifesto, which suggested the role for school ought to be building community. We collected a week’s worth of online comments, then analyzed those comments to see what we could learn from what well-intentioned people thought about the idea.

What we learned is that it’s nearly impossible to divorce the idea of school from human capital development, from preparing individual students for college or career. The social norms related to the purpose of school are pervasive and fixed.

From our report: “Right now, even advocates for greater community involvement in schools tend to view community as a mere external resource that supports schools’ essential activity of adding to students’ skills and knowledge – this human capital development is seen as what the school ‘is.'”