A Human-Centered Society

In Beyond Quick Fixes (Rouse, 2024) I considered how human-centered interventions could mitigate the health, education, energy, and mis/dis information challenges addressed in this book.  I explored how these ecosystems could benefit from seeing them as human-centered systems.  This led to my postulating how all four challenges could be mitigated as a whole, reflecting an overall human-centered society

What if we could foster a social movement such that society’s zeitgeist — defining spirit or mood — was human-centered?  Might a social movement be possible?  What would be required for success?  To begin, we need to characterize social movements.  A social movement is a loosely organized effort by a large group of people to achieve a particular goal, typically a social or political one.

Consider examples of movements targeted at just health, energy or energy.  Hoffman (2003) chronicles health care reform and social movements in the United States.  Because of the importance of grassroots social movements, or “change from below,” in the history of US reform, the relationship between social movements and demands for universal health care is a critical one.

National health reform campaigns in the 20th century were initiated and run by those more concerned with defending against attacks from interest groups than with popular mobilization.  Consequently change focused on immediate and incremental changes rather than transforming the health care system itself.  However, grassroots demands have also contained the seeds of a wider critique of the American health care system.

Van Heertum and Torres (2011) consider changes in the U.S. educational system over the past 30 years. They argue that neoliberalism has dominated the debate, moving away from the progressive reforms of the 60s and 70s, and making economic imperatives the key focus of schooling in America. Major trends include accountability and standards, privatization and school choice, professionalism and accreditation, resegregation and persistence of racial achievement gaps and the changing nature of educational research.

Hess (2018) considers social movements and energy in democracies. “Industrial transition movements emerge when there is resistance from incumbent organizations, such as large utility companies in the electricity industry, to grassroots efforts to change the industry. He  provides an analysis of the “relations among the state, industry, civil society, and social movements that provides insights into causal mechanisms in the effects of social movements on industrial transitions and energy democracy.”

Notable achievements in broader arenas have included the Abolitionist Movement (1830-1870), the Women’s Suffrage Movement (1848-1917),  the Progressive Movement (1897-1920), and the Civil Rights Movement (1875-1968).  Such social movements have taken decades to secure the outcomes sought. Many, probably most, initiatives never gain recognition as “movements.”  However, some do succeed, with enormous social, political, and economic consequences.

The elements of the human-centered systems movement include the following:

  • Efficient & effective ecosystem services
  • Integration across service systems
  • Equitable & affordable access to services
  • Continuous learning & improvement of services
  • Leveraging lessons learned broadly

The central premise is that everybody wants our societal systems to perform well for everybody.  This requires, of course, that we design and operate these functions as systems rather than as a patchwork of activities.

It seems reasonable to assume that we all want service systems that are efficient and effective, e.g., for health, education, energy and information (Bossidy & Charan, 2009).  While the lack of efficiency and effectiveness can result in greater profits for providers, for example, in the health system, the human-centered systems movement will find this totally unacceptable.

We should desire integration across service systems to foster synergies across public and private providers (Rouse, 2022).  This integration can be technological and procedural and does not require actual mergers of organizations.  The human-centered systems movement will argue and lobby for policy frameworks that encourage this form of integration.

Equitable and affordable access to services should be assured (Khanna, 2022).  This requires the availability of requisite technologies and possibly subsidized access.  The human-centered systems movement will foster knowledgeable access to and use of resources that will enable well-informed choices among health, education, energy and information services.

Continuous learning and improvement of efficiency and effectiveness are central (Deming, 1982).  Pursuit of the above three aspirations will result in enormous data sets that can inform improvements of efficiency and effectiveness, for instance, in terms of identifying and remediating usability issues and hindrances of critical importance to the human-centered systems movement.

We need to leverage lessons learned broadly across health, education, energy and information services, both in the US and globally, e.g., Estonia (Heller, 2017).  Inevitably, some ideas will work well and others will not.  Some will only work under particular circumstances.  The human-centered systems movement will work to assure that the overall learning system explores and exploits innovations broadly.


Bossidy, L., & Charan, R. (2009). Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.  Sydney: Currency.

Deming, W.E. (1982). Out of Crisis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Heller, N. (2017). Estonia, the digital republic. The New Yorker, December 11.

Hess, D.J. (2018). Social movements and energy democracy: Types and processes of mobilization. Frontiers in Energy Research, 6, (135).

Hoffman, B. (2003). Health care reform and social movements in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 93 (1), 75-85.

Khanna, R. (2022). Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Rouse, W.B. (2022). Transforming Public-Private Ecosystems: Understanding and Enabling Innovation in Complex Systems. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Van Heertum, R., & Torres, C.A. (2011). Educational reform in the U.S. in the past 30 years: Great expectations and the fading American dream. In L. Olmos, R. Van Heertum & C.A. Torres, Eds., Educating The Global Citizen. Sharjah, UAE. Bentham Science.

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