Profile | Justin Cook





Justin W. Cook is the Senior Lead for Sustainable Development at the Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra. His current work in the organization’s Strategy Unit Research Team includes research and projects in support of Sitra’s sustainable wellbeing societal transformation activities as well as new initiatives on the future of education in Finland and the US, impact investing, catalyzing the third sector in Finland and trends that are challenging Western governments. Previously he was Helsinki Design Lab’s resident expert on climate and energy issues and worked to bring strategic design practice into government and other owners of complex challenges. He also helped to develop and manage Sitra’s Low2No sustainable urban development project.

Based in Boston, Justin is a faculty member at Rhode Island School of Design and advises research teams at MIT and Harvard on how to use design as a transformative capacity. Currently at MIT, he is a strategic advisor to MIT Collaborative Initiatives, which has launched a new project with John Hopkins University Systems Institute aiming at transforming the Clinical Trials system. This project builds on previous systemic design projects on post traumatic stress in the active military, childhood obesity and ischemic stroke. Most recently, Justin was an instructor in the inaugural Institute for Design and Public Policy; a collaboration between RISD and the US Department of State. Justin received a Master of Architecture with commendation from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Washington.





Senior Lead: Sustainable Wellbeing

Ongoing, The Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra

Over the past few decades, Finnish society has rapidly become more and more prosperous. At the same time, its culture and behavioural norms have become considerably more tolerant. Since the 1980s, the market economy has expanded, strengthening its influence in people’s daily lives. Today, Finns have much more choice than before. But this rapid social change has created new types of problems related to daily life management and emotional well-being.

People often have difficulty in making sensible decisions when it comes to their own well-being and that of others. The diversity of daily activities is hard to coordinate and presents problems, because the amount of time available and people’s capacity to process things have not changed. People’s lives are chock-full of activities that compete for their limited time, energy and capacity to concentrate. This causes stress, problems and emotional anxiety, resulting in poor choices for their long term health and well-being. In other words, we have not yet learned to live in our rapidly changing world.

So far, this gradual but profound transition in well-being has largely escaped public discussion. The framework of public discussion about well-being dates back to the 1960s and continues to focus on shortage and scarcity, even though the new challenges result from the current abundance of choice. This does not mean that problems related to social inequality have become less important. Today, these traditional well-being problems coexist with new types of challenges that affect all groups of citizens.

For this reason, the Finnish (and indeed global) model of well-being needs to be updated, and the new challenges must be addressed in public discussion. Through its research and project related activities, Sitra is pursing a new model for society that is organized around sustainable well-being.


Strategic Advisor: MIT Clinical Trials Systems Project

This project deploys systems thinking and design principles to identify and map the current clinical trial process, identify breakdowns in processes and develop strategies to address those breakdowns. By taking a broad view of the system our goal is to identify areas that have not been addressed which will have a major impact on the system as a whole.

We recognize that there are many groups looking deeply into the individual pieces of the clinical trial process and we plan to work with them as we take this broader perspective. The intent of the project is not to compete with but to augment current work being done.

The project will use the tools that engineers and architects are trained in, to visualize the current system, a potential future state and pathways to get there. A critical component of this strategy is that we do not enter the project with a hypothesis to test. We model the current state and work back to identify critical breakdowns, then move forward to address those breakdowns.

This initiative began in November 2014, is expected to last 2-3 years and is funded by philanthropy.


Stratgic Advisor: MIT Collaborative Initiatives


The Mission of MIT Collaborative Initiatives is to promote a systems-based approach to solving deep-rooted societal issues by engaging experts from a broad range of disciplines both within and outside the scope of a problem.

It is the belief of the Collaborative that many of today’s most challenging issues can benefit from outside expertise. Debate among experts is valuable but is often self-perpetuating. Adding viewpoints from outside the conversation broadens the debate and may lead it in new directions. The Collaborative’s intentions are not to compete with people and organizations involved in addressing critical issues, but to swell the wave by broadening the discussion.

In addition, the Collaborative has come to believe that a systems-based approach is vital to challenging widespread societal issues. Systems thinking looks at the interconnectivity of actions and studies a problem as a whole. This approach considers the system as a sum of its parts where a change in any one part has system-wide ramifications. Without this global view much time can be spent addressing issues in a single part of what is ultimately a comprehensively flawed system.

The Collaborative applies its Mission in two basic models:

1. We bring people together to instigate challenging discussion and debate around a given issue or set of issues.
Often, the Collaborative is approached to bring a significant group together around a specific topic and facilitate constructive dialogue. At other times, the Collaborative identifies areas that it feels could benefit from this type of broad discussion and initiates the meetings.

Meetings range in size and scope, and the Collaborative takes on large group meetings—in a discussion format—if it feels that a broad discussion across silos and with outside input could be beneficial. The Collaborative is currently focused on healthcare, but has facilitated these types of meetings around issues in global health, global finance, and other areas of widespread concern.

2. We target specific areas of interest and develop projects by identifying and advising a project team, engaging influential external advisors, and building project objectives to apply a systems approach to various arenas.


Lead Researcher: Stroke Pathways

Harvard University

Time is brain – this is the current paradigm in stroke care and implies that there is a limited time in which one has a higher chance at success in treating stroke victims. Under current protocals the general consensus is that the best outcomes for stroke are achieved by getting a victim to any designated hospital as quickly as possible.

The Stroke Pathways project, led by Prof. Marco Steinberg of the Harvard Graduate School of Design in conjunction with the MIT Collaborative Initiatives, made a comprehensive study of the system of stroke care – from “birth to death” – and made two important findings based on a new model: Time is brain but all brains are different. So whereas one patient might have 12 hours to work with another might have 3 and yet another might have 1.

Patients brains are different and the scale of the ischemic stroke can be different, yet, in the earliest phase of triage, there is a standard range of care which does not allow for differentiation of treatment. In addition, while individual care providers may go through great efforts to respond to a patient’s individual needs there is a highly fragmented delivery system that varies by region, city, hospital and physician.

The project findings indicated a new paradigm, “Time is variable and the Right Care is Brain” therefore early segmentation, providing the right care for individual needs and assuring continuity of the right care are key to improving outcomes and decreasing costs. Average approaches do not work.

The project produced a Strategic Roadmap for Stroke; a top ten list of recommendations for next steps; and a proven methodology for looking at complex societal issues through a design lens. This methodology has since been applied by MIT Collaborative Inititiatives to the issues of Childhood Obesity and PTSD in the military.


Studio Lead: MIT Albright Challenge


The Mission of the Albright Challenge is to stimulate inventive, collaborative solutions to today’s major societal issues while informing a new generation of leaders AND to reinforce the critical need for and value of prevention in all areas of societal concern.

In 2013 and 2014, the Albright Challenge brought together a group of rising leaders to tackle two very different, but related change dynamics. In 2013, Challenge participants spent an intensive week investigating the intersection of education and the environment to develop a set of proposals that could help to accelerate society’s ability to address our compounding environmental challenges. In 2014, the Challenge was organized around the trend toward personalization of previously highly centralized systems, namely health and learning. Participants developed proposals aimed at capturing the potential value of personalization while enabling the mission critical work of the healthcare and education systems to evolve.



Contact Justin Cook