Students, academic experts and professionals will have a hand in solving community challenges at a new social lab based at Saint Mary’s University. The Change Lab Action Research Institute will be a space where people can come together to find solutions to complex problems, like issues related to economic growth, employment, productivity, sustainability and social innovation, among others. Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan was at Saint Mary’s University today, Oct. 7, to announce the Excellence and Innovation Fund project. “Our province is facing demographic and economic challenges, and we are looking for ways to do things differently,” said Ms. Regan. “These challenges can’t be solved in isolation — we need to bring different perspectives and expertise together in a creative environment. The Change Lab Action Research Institute will be that place.” Communities and organizations can approach the institute with a challenge or opportunity. They will be invited to participate in a facilitated process, which includes generating ideas, learning skills, testing concepts or prototypes and implementing solutions. “Saint Mary’s has a strong tradition of community engagement,” said Saint Mary’s president Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray. “The Change Lab Action Research Institute takes that to another level by providing Nova Scotia communities and community groups the support they need to overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities in their own communities.” The project is a partnership between the Nova Scotia Community College, Université Sainte-Anne, and Saint Mary’s, Cape Breton, St. Francis Xavier, Mount Saint Vincent and Acadia Universities. The Excellence and Innovation Fund helps universities deliver high-quality education while exploring new ways to reduce operating costs, encourage collaboration and advance the social and economic development goals of the province. Government is investing $1.1 million in the Change Lab Action Research Institute project, which is expected to be operational by next fall.