Foreword – Joi Ito


The Media Lab, the interdisciplinary research center I direct at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, faces a challenge: how do we connect the discoveries we make in our labs with the real problems people face in their communities?

I found myself confronting this problem when I organized a group of students, faculty, and advisors to visit Detroit, the city where I grew up, to explore how the Media Lab might help address the many challenges the city faces. Community organizer Shaka Senghor quickly set me straight. Hundreds of people come to Detroit hoping to solve the city’s problems. The only way these solutions work is when they’re developed in partnership with the people actually affected by these problems. The Media Lab can be a powerful contributor to addressing the problems Detroit faces, but only in partnership with citizens, organizations in the community, and local government.

Zaid’s book offers practical insight into how to make such partnerships work. This book offers a new approach to the complex, real-world problems facing communities, organizations, cities, nations, and the world as a whole—just the sorts of problems we enjoying tackling at the Media Lab. Social laboratories bring together civil society, industry, government, and the people directly affected by the challenges in question to seek creative new solutions from a cooperative and interdisciplinary perspective. This approach to problem solving—bringing together the best thinking from different disciplines, approaching a problem from different perspectives—is precisely the approach that leading research labs in the hard sciences are taking to address the thorniest problems in their fields.

One of the challenges research labs have is moving from thought to action. My experience with technology start-up companies has taught me that prototyping and iterating is how agile companies succeed. Zaid has taken these and other ideas that have found traction in Silicon Valley and applied them to complex social problems.

Zaid builds on his decade of experience to offer a book that is an effective, practical, and exciting guide to implementing a visionary new approach to social challenges. Whether you are trying to transform a dysfunctional school in your neighborhood or help a nation escape a cycle of famine, you will find powerful new ideas, approaches, and methods in this book that will inspire and transform your work.

– Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab

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