Against a backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and a U.S. presidential election bringing complex issues such as inequality, racial justice, climate change, and more to the fore, Bryant University hosted an expert in complex problem solving, Beth Simone Noveck, Ph.D., to launch this year’s Honors Program Speaker Series.
Noveck is an author, professor, and former White House and UK government advisor who is an expert on fusing innovation and leadership at the highest level. Known as a pioneer in helping institutions evolve into more productive forms, she specializes in employing digital technology to make government more effective at solving problems, delivering services, and forging policies.
“Dr. Noveck is a highly accomplished scholar. It was exciting to have her share her knowledge and scholarship with our students, and for our students to share their knowledge with her and contribute to the discourse,” said Susan Baran, MA, Associate Director of the Honors Program and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication. “All of our Honors students have a need to know, to evolve, and to affect change.”
“If we can become public problem solvers, we can all have a large and beneficial impact on communities and our people.”
The discussion inspired students like Kaitlyn Fales '21, an Applied Math and Statistics and Honors student who hopes to conduct research related to policy and social science after attending graduate school. “Problems that exist all over the globe ... often are quite ambiguous and difficult to understand,” she said. However, “our younger generations are working to better understand these problems and have the drive to solve them. … Her presentation gave me hope.”
Policy-making in a global world
During the talk, which was attended by over 170 members of the Honors Program and Bryant community, Noveck presented her case for 21st-century public entrepreneurship and society’s need to train more public problem solvers who develop “a toolkit for change” for improving public policy.
The timing for becoming a public problem solver, Noveck says, has never been better. “We have so many challenges in the world today. But the great part is that we have never had better tools. ... We've never had greater collective will and passion than we do today to overcome the obstacles we're facing,” said Noveck. “If we can become public problem solvers, we can all have a large and beneficial impact on communities and our people, whether it's in our own university, our own neighborhoods, or more globally.”
“We have so many challenges in the world today. But the great part is that we have never had better tools” to solve them.
In addition, she noted, “complex problem solving is the No. 1 skill employers want to see,” pointing to a World Economic Forum report and the marketability of the skill.
Becoming a "public entrepreneur"
Drawing on her scholarship and her work advising governments around the world about innovation, Noveck discussed a “toolkit for change” that she believes can make success more likely when tackling complex problems.
To build a toolkit for change, Noveck said, students should learn to use a project management or innovation process that can help one take a public interest project from idea to implementation, and do so rapidly and collaboratively.
“It's incumbent upon us to do what we can to tackle problems, even if we can't solve them fully.”
Noveck shared in detail the multistep process she’s adopted that includes the use of data, collective intelligence, and “open” innovation. She offered her assistance in helping students apply the process to causes they care about, and invited them to take a free public problem solving course at NYU that she teaches.
The mindset of a public problem solver
Above all, being a public problem solver requires a focus on change – no matter how big or small – rather than fully solving problems, suggested Noveck, because social problems are “seemingly endless” and “are never truly solved.”
She implored, “It's incumbent upon us to do what we can to tackle problems, even if we can't solve them fully. That's why, as we talk about problem solving, we're so focused on […] what we can do to implement interventions in communities that can make a difference in people's lives.”