Original Events

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.

Past trauma, present action

The world’s genocide museums successfully ensure that we never forget history’s most horrific events. But these institutions can do so much more, we concluded in our work with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Specifically, genocide museums can build a movement from visitors who are sufficiently touched by their experiences to incorporate lessons into their own lives. If enough visitors are transformed, the resulting movement would be an unprecedented force for good and a breakwall against future atrocities.

“The experience of the Holocaust could ultimately help people to make sense of what is going on in other conflict situations,” said former U.S. congressman Toby Moffett, who collaborated with us on the project. “To be a fountain of know-how and information and technical assistance, while at the same time not relinquishing the main idea of the Holocaust as history’s greatest case study – I think it’s very exciting.”

This work informed our later work in Rwanda, in which we explored alterations of the museum experience that could produce transformed visitors.

Bringing art to heal

At first glance, it appears as if the social norms of the military and the arts are incompatible. That perception is so pervasive, in fact, that it threatens art therapy programs at military hospitals.

That was the challenge we were asked to address at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where an art therapy program was showing very good early results. We worked with medical staff, military leadership and arts professionals to look for some way to reconcile values of the two fields.

Surprisingly, it turned out we didn’t need to. By digging into the military budget and the realities of the military experience, we discovered that the arts are already a critical element of what the Pentagon does. At the time, the budget for military bands alone was bigger than the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency that supports arts institutions and arts programs in all 50 states.

The key was simply the arts speaking the military’s language. “Walter Reed’s leaders could evaluate all of their arts programs using the same metrics the Pentagon uses to assess its own efforts to reintegrate soldiers into civilian life,” our report read. “This data could not only bolster the role of art at Walter Reed, but serve as the basis for new military arts programs.”

We were enlisted in this effort by Mike Orlove, director at the National Endowment for the Arts. It is one of several projects of our projects related to the social norms of health care, including our work with Harvard on mobile health, our work with a start up on the role of patients, and our publication on the social determinants of health and professional education.

Take note

Music is so ubiquitous in New Orleans that it feels like a natural resource. But every note of every song is the product of somebody’s hard work, and most of those somebodies are getting a raw deal.

We tackled this problem as part of UX for Good, the initiative GreenHouse developed with Jason Ulaszek. Together, we enlisted a dozen of the country’s best user experience designers to join us, music industry executives, local performers and leaders of community organizers in figuring out how to improve musicians’ quality of life.

Our final report read: “To maintain the culture of music, musicians need access to different resource sets than other participants in the economy and social safety net. If we want musicians to keep doing the things musicians do, we need to design solutions that are compatible with the way musicians must live.”

We went on to detail several solutions, from re-tooling tipping to building new technologies for music career management. Our findings related to tipping spawned several new companies, through which musicians can automate tips from their fans.

UX for Good, which won the user experience design industry’s top award for our work in New Orleans, has also tackled challenges related to schools and genocide museums.

Place your bets

After years of muddled democratization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American political class needed a new way to talk about sharing the virtues of representative government abroad. So we set out to concoct one, seeking inspiration in the logic model of venture capitalism.

VCs, we observed, place small, well-timed bets to realize big returns. Working with democracy advocates at the U.S. State Department and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we identified several key ways in which a new model for democratization could borrow ideas from Silicon Valley.

Andrew Benedict-Nelson laid out the key traits that both democratization and venture investing require in a piece for GOOD Magazine: investing in many different projects with a very long time horizon; investing in ways that help make sense of failure, particularly by recouping non-traditional returns like relationships and knowledge; and investing in ways that advance the state of the art, incorporating those advances into future efforts.

We further concluded that the proper place for those investments was civil society. Within a week, the idea was being considered at the White House as a way to guide future U.S. efforts.

Enlisted for the project by Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, with whom we also worked to design a new model for international organizations.

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.”

Persistent desire to do good

There has been an explosion in programs to support social entrepreneurship. From business schools to design academies to digital collectives, everyone is trying to equip a new generation with the tools and competencies they need to “start something.”

But how do these prospective entrepreneurs know what’s really worth starting?

That was at the center of our project with Echoing Green, a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship. We concluded that while startup skills are nice, social entrepreneurs really need a way to discern a clear calling or to develop a coherent theory of change – long before they apply for 501(c)3 or B Corp status.

“Early proponents of the idea of social entrepreneurialism noticed the similarities between the way these folks pursue their dreams and the spirit that animates young companies,” Andrew Benedict-Nelson said in a GOOD Magazine piece about the project. “As a result, nonprofits and universities launched programs that seek to equip young people with similar skills.

“But without a persistent desire to do good, a social entrepreneur is little more than a glorified grant writer. There are plenty of people with strong callings who will never found a nonprofit, but instead realize their desire to do good in some other arena. We need to maximize the number of individuals actively pursuing their callings to do good, no matter what form their careers might take.”

This was a foundation of our work at USC, where we helped launch the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation.

The fourth R

Ashoka, the organization famous for empowering changemakers throughout the world, sought to infuse empathy into the next generation of schoolchildren. But they found schools to be wary and teachers to be resistant.

We discovered that the key was uncoupling empathy from the curriculum and coupling it instead with what teachers do naturally: tracking and encouraging relationships among children. As one of our collaborators, Nina Rappaport, said: “We just need a fourth R. Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and relationships.”

This critical piece of context informed the Start Empathy toolkit Ashoka released the following year.

“Cultivating empathy and building up change-making skills in children and the adults modeling their behavior isn’t the result of a single exercise,” Ashoka’s Lennon Flowers told us about the toolkit. “We do have an extraordinary of concrete exercises that help you start today. But in the end, it’s not about that. It’s about being intentional in every conversation you have with every child, as well as your peers and administrators.”

The insights we developed with Ashoka greatly informed our later work on mindfulness education with the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education. We also took up the theme of scaling social impact with Ashoka the following year.