Traits Shared by BAY-SIC Initiatives

BAY-SIC experiments should include all or most of the following elements:

1. They should address wicked problems, not just hard ones.  A hard problem, like calculus, can be solved with fortitude, hard work, and persistence, while a wicked problem is a complex social or cultural problem that defies solution.  Wicked problems typically have multiple dimensions and often involve incomplete or contradictory understandings of the problem, diverse causes, social complexity, no clear solution, and an interconnected nature.  Poverty is linked to education, for example, and nutrition with poverty, the economy with nutrition, and so on.  Moreover, working on one aspect of a wicked problem often creates new problems in other aspects.

Examples of wicked problems might include: food security, human trafficking, obesity prevention, child protection, climate change, social mobility, healthcare access, migration challenges, or drug abuse.[1]

2. They should present an opportunity to develop generative and transformational approaches that change the equilibrium on a given wicked problem.  Experiments ought to go beyond discovering knowledge or engaging in advocacy or service.  Instead, they should present the potential to build, renew, or transform institutions (and their interconnections in broader “ecosystems”) in order to promote human flourishing.

3. They should be transdisciplinary.  Because our most important problems are not reducible to any one discipline or field, and because we operate in a world in which challenges are less foreseeable and knowledge less reliable, it is important for us to improvise and develop opportunities for learning, discovery, and action across units.  Because the most effective innovation often results from associational thinking across diverse problems and fields, preliminary BAY-SIC experiments should ordinarily involve three or more disciplines from two or more colleges/schools (we will consider experiments involving two disciplines if they are significantly distinct).  In many instances, the more diverse, the better.  For example, a project aimed toward improving kindergarten readiness in Waco might involve collaborators from Economics, Child & Family Studies, and Computer Science.  A project on recidivism in Texas might involve faculty and students from Sociology, Entrepreneurship, the Law School, and Truett Seminary.  A project on the Central American refugee crisis might involve contributions from Educational Leadership, the Honors Program, Religion, and the Garland School of Social Work.  Possibilities are limitless, with a premium on creative collaborations.  

4. They should be community embedded and involve partnerships across sectors. Because social innovation cannot proceed separate and apart from a deep understanding of and a close engagement with a community in which a given problem exists, BAY-SIC activities should occur within a specific community context—whether that community is Waco or another community across the globe.  Likewise, because social innovation aims at creating social value, it is compatible with multiple sectors of our society (private, public, and social) and multiple business models (e.g. for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid).  BAY-SIC experiments should seek to build partnerships—within specific communities and across multiple sectors—with stakeholders committed to innovation and shared visions of human flourishing.

5. They should be animated by faith.  Consistent with our shared Christian mission, faith should be a vital force, providing the imagination, passion, and commitment that leads to innovation.  Christian social innovation recognizes that it will take more than human ingenuity to solve intractable, wicked problems; it will take a comprehensive vision of God and the nature and purpose of the world and of human life within it.   

6. They should have an educational mission.  Some experiments might be driven by teaching-learning activities, while others might be driven by research and scholarly activity, and still others by an integration of both.  In all cases, experiments should be directed toward some form of implementation, action, and impact. 

Given the complexity of wicked problems, these experiments might challenge traditional university practices and structures.  For example, most will involve multiple instructors (in the case of teaching-learning activities), multiple disciplines (see 3), a mix of graduate/professional and undergraduate students, commitment to multiple semesters, partnerships external to the university (see 4), travel and other activities beyond the classroom.   

In addition to knowledge particular to the wicked problem being addressed, educational experiments also should seek to develop mindsets, skills, and wisdom that will equip students for a rapidly changing world.        

7. They should be well-crafted and planned.  Initial launch of the BAY-SIC will involve support for several experiments, iterations of which will help clarify models to scale going forward.  Within this approach, initial experiments should involve measured, “smart” steps, with built-in plans for learning and evaluation and potential scaling. 

Because the Provost has agreed to extend seed funding to promising experiments, proposals should involve thorough assessment of financial needs, including but not limited to the following considerations: travel, equipment, supplies, adjunct pay (should BAY-SIC activities leave other classes uncovered), personnel needs (including graduate assistantships), and any other costs associated with BAY-SIC activities.

  1. For more reading on wicked problems, see, among other valuable sources: Jon Kolko, “Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving