What Is Social Possibility?

We use the term, Social Possibility, to refer to the work of expanding the horizon of possible opportunities for good.  In a way, this work is simple, personal, and readily at hand.  It entails exploring ways to see, think, and do differently, and with an eye to the greater good.  

Social possibility includes all those efforts that are helping in some way to discover, create, and realize new possibilities for social good.  It also includes ways to help advance the imaginative capacity of places, and their people.    

We are most interested in the intersections of place and possibility.  Place-specific interventions can create meaningful changes.   We see this when vacant lots become community gardens or nature-filled green spaces.  While the data on public parks and crime in urban areas is somewhat mixed, studies on green spaces (urban spaces with high amounts of grass, plants, tree canopy cover, and other greenery) find a clear connection between green space and lower crime rates, for instance.  Placemaking projects seek to change a neighborhood’s physical environment as a way to promote improved quality of life such as increased safety and reducing health disparities.

Where placemaking is centrally concerned with the physical and material context of neighborhoods, Social Possibility Lab is most focused on the intangible and imaginative context of places.  Are there ways to influence the environment for ideas, and enhance the imaginative infrastructure of places?

In some ways, we can think about three domains of Social Possibility:  experiments, endeavors, and ecosystems.  Social possibility experiments and endeavors are those active efforts (such as an initiative, project, or policy) that help expand the horizon of possible opportunities for good.   They represent creative approaches to one or more persistent challenges.  Social Possibility experiments and endeavors help expand our sense of what is attainable within the present circumstances and structures.  

Social Possibility Ecosystems are the conditions that support and strengthen the imaginative capacity of people in particular places.   Our premise is that places can strengthen their ecosystem for social possibility, creating an environment to nurture and grow even more social possibility endeavors and experiments.  Our focus is place-based, where a place is a neighborhood, city, or even a multi-locality region.  

We also refer to imaginative capacity, of people and of places.  We can think of imaginative capacity as a sort of fabric or tissue that surrounds and connects the various facets of a social possibility ecosystem.  People, organizations, or locations can enhance their capability for imagining, for seeing new possibilities, and thus become key nodes or hubs within a particular ecosystem.  

In an entrepreneur ecosystem, it might be that a coworking space, incubator, or business mentoring program becomes a key node or hub, adding value throughout a region to those interested in starting or growing a new business, connecting to resources, and networking with peers.  This kind of node also helps shape the idea of a region as entrepreneurial, innovative, or entrepreneur-friendly.  

In a social possibility ecosystem, it might be that a youth program, weekly open mic night, a cultural event, an idea festival, a public arts initiative, a reading group, a nonprofit accelerator, a writing contest, or a community fellows program could play a similar role in contributing to the imaginative capacity of a place.   

The notion is similar to a cultural ecosystem or creative ecosystem, but perhaps broader in nature.  We are interested in the varied ways that people in a place are able to consider, learn, reflect, dream, play, create, and generate new ideas and perspectives.  

Here at the Social Possibility Lab, we are keenly interested in understanding this better.  What does contribute to greater social possibility and imaginative capacity in particular places?