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Need Fresh Food, Credit, Energy Efficient Housing? People at Innovations Lab Work on Local Solutions

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 31, 2012

People actively engaged in solving complex social problems and people who are newly involved or curious how to start can find common ground and inspiration at the Minnesota Social Innovations Lab.

At its first gathering at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, May 22, attendees heard Glenda Eoyang, the founding executive director of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute (HSDI) and other entrepreneurs describe patterns of complex systems and offer some insights on how such understanding can foster positive change. The lab is an outgrowth of, an initiative started by several Minnesota based foundations and organizations to connect people in person and online so they can find and share the knowledge, tools and resources to solve local problems. HSDI, a network of professionals working at the intersection of complexity and social science, is one of 70 organizations now partnering with InCommons.

The idea is to create an "ecosystem of social innovation,” explains Michael Bischoff, project manager for the lab. "Our hope is to connect many different networks and clusters of resources and practice that are useful for social innovation in Minnesota,” he said. While the focus is on Minnesota projects, he added, the lab wants to develop relationships with other networks and initiatives elsewhere in the country.

Participants at the May 22 session explored a broad range of economic, environmental, educational, community and health issues. One group, from a community where there was no bank, no access to credit, and the only financial institutions were check cashing businesses, described the creation of a local credit union. Other groups proposed ways to measure strengths and capacities of immigrant communities, end prostitution and girl trafficking in the state, build access and infrastructure for a supply of healthy local food, and ensure all new affordable housing units in Minnesota are "green.” For a complete list of the projects, and the individuals who presented them, visit the lab’s "Harvest Basket” website. Anyone interested in more information on any of the projects may contact the presenters or Bischoff.

Bischoff is working with a team of organizers who will follow up with projects and participants to further connections among those doing related or complementary work. "We will be having weekly coworker innovation days for people to continue meeting and collaborating on things that came out of the lab,” Bischoff said. "We are also starting to work with a new list of projects for the next lab. We want to nurture an environment where there is a lot of cross fertilization, not all coordinated by us. We’re experimenting to do what we can without doing it all.”

The next Minnesota Social Innovation Lab session will be held September 12.

Similar innovation labs elsewhere have been established to foster local initiatives. In Baltimore, for instance, a social innovation lab supports projects for community health and well-being run by students from Johns Hopkins and other Baltimore-based institutions.

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