Who’s left out, and who’s empowered? That, in essence, seems to be what everyone’s talking about right now. In the United States, students of color, women, and others are pushing for college programs and policies better suited to their needs. Political candidates in the United States and other countries have scored victories against the political “establishment” by appealing to voters who feel excluded from 21st-century prosperity. Around the world, the “Internet of Things”—ride-sharing, mobile money, and more—shows potential either to expand access to vital services and opportunities, or to further entrench inequalities.

SSIR follows these issues of inclusion and empowerment closely. We convened our Frontiers of Social Innovation forum in May around how to build inclusive markets and societies. And our recent feature story “Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever)” emphasized the importance of directly engaging community members in social change work.

Here are eight books we’ve recently reviewed or excerpted that focus on these topics.

What Works: Gender Equality by Design
By Iris Bohnet
Bohnet, who directs the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, shows why good intentions aren’t enough to ensure that organizations promote equality and diverse leadership. Unconscious bias affects each of us, including, as SSIR reviewer Kavita Ramdas writes, “well-meaning, self-styled progressives like me who have led feminist organizations!” Fortunately, Bohnet offers several techniques that can help overcome these biases, including interview checklists and data analysis methods.
Read the review.

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
By Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey
An Everyone Culture argues that organizations do best when they build environments that encourage constant personal development among their employees and connect organizational goals with employees’ personal ones. The authors, both on the faculty at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, profile three model organizations from very different sectors: Decurion, a real estate company that owns the ArcLight Hollywood movie theater; Next Jump, an e-commerce tech company; and hedge-fund investor Bridgewater.
Read the excerpt.

Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives
By Deborah K. Padgett, Benjamin F. Henwood, & Sam J. Tsemberis
“To people outside the homelessness services sector, the idea that housing is the solution to homelessness may appear obvious,” writes Dennis P. Culhane, who reviewed Housing First. “Employing randomized controlled trials to prove it may seem like testing whether food would be an appropriate treatment for starvation.” Within the sector, however, strict preconditions for receiving housing discourage many potential applicants. This book shows how the Housing First movement has refocused much of the sector around empowering the people it purports to help.
Read the review.

Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities
By Ryan Gravel
Architect and city planner Gravel is the mind behind the Atlanta Beltline, an ambitious project to transform a former rail corridor into a network of trails and transit links around the city. Both the project’s aim—to bring together people otherwise divided by “car culture” and urban sprawl—and the broad-based grassroots campaign to implement it are examples of the importance of empowering and connecting diverse communities. As SSIR reviewer Ben Hecht writes, “If racism and ‘white flight’ were some of the drivers of sprawl, the Beltline, with its positive impact on many long-underserved neighborhoods, could use physical remnants of the city’s rich history that preceded car culture to help reintegrate neighborhoods and repair past wrongs.”
Read the review.

Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities
By Duncan McLaren & Julian Agyeman
McLaren and Agyeman show the many ways that the “sharing economy” shares—and fails to share—in different cities around the world. In some cases, "sharing economies" help build community and promote social justice; in others, they increase inequalities and distrust between the wealthy and the underprivileged. The authors want to ensure that going forward, the trend is toward the former, not the latter. “At the heart of our case for the sharing paradigm,” they write, “is an understanding of justice as universal access to the capacities and abilities we need to flourish.”
Read the review.

Democratic by Design: How Carsharing, Co-ops, and Community Land Trusts Are Reinventing America
By Gabriel Metcalf
Metcalf focuses Democratic by Design on what he calls, in his introduction to our excerpt, “alternative institutions,” or “living examples of a better society—projects that can then be seen, studied, improved on, and copied.” The most successful alternative institutions, he writes, “will actually begin to out-compete the mainstream institutions that they stand alongside,” sometimes in part by including people that those mainstream institutions fail to serve. In our excerpt, Metcalf draws lessons from his experience co-founding City CarShare, a greener alternative to individual car ownership.
Read the excerpt.

Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing
By Beth Simone Noveck
The way that many US government institutions operate establishes a “false dichotomy between reliance on a professional elite or on an ignorant citizenry,” writes Noveck, director of The GovLab at NYU. Her book shows how, instead of shutting out the contributions of the crowd in favor of credentialed “experts,” the government could use one group’s knowledge to supplement the other’s—particularly as technology expands the means for crowdsourcing solutions to public problems.
Read the review.

Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America
By Hollie Russon Gilman
What can the United States do about high levels of political disenchantment? One answer, Gilman suggests, is participatory budgeting (PB), which allows residents to choose for themselves how to spend a portion of public funds. When involved in PB, “People make friends, form new networks, and enjoy being a part of something larger than their personal day-to-day concerns,” she writes. The Participatory Budgeting Project’s Josh Lerner, who reviewed the book, notes that PB’s benefits don’t end there: “Although civic rewards may keep people involved…it is the promise of empowerment and inclusion that mobilizes them to participate in the first place.”
Read the review.

Check out our previous book roundups, "Eight Social Entrepreneurs Tell Their Personal Stories" and "The Top 10 Books on the Economics of Poverty." And browse hundreds more SSIR book reviews and excerpts here

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