Institute on Healthcare Systems

Relational Society Project

Relational Society Project

Shyamal Sharma, Founder and Principal
Jody Hoffer Gittell, Collaborator
The Heller School, Brandeis University

About the Project

The Relational Society Project is a research and innovation incubator for seeking practical and sustainable relational solutions to address the serious crises of our times that permeate geopolitical boundaries and ultimately affect us all around the globe.  We conceptualize Relational Society as a state of generalized reciprocity and robust social capital, created through goodwill, empathetic fellowship, and virtuous social interactions among individuals and stakeholders in a community as parts of a whole.   

We ​humans ​​evolved as an empathic species. Early in our evolution, as hunter-gatherers, we learned to value empathy and interdependence as crucial to our survival as a species, providing an impetus for creating a social order embedded in solidarity and recognition of our shared destiny.         ​

We now live in a highly interconnected world – evolutionarily, socially, economically, and environmentally. Paradoxically, however, large swaths of humanity around the globe are afflicted by loneliness and social isolation of epidemic proportions, in addition to suffering from deep divisions around race, economic class, religion, and political beliefs. Our shared destiny as a civil society is at grave risk.  

We are however hardwired with an innate capacity for relating with our fellow human beings, for expressing empathy, for building solidarity, for being resilient in crisis. Our hope, therefore, lies within us.  

We need to build a relational society, starting in the communities where we live. We need to repair our damaged relationships and re-build our communities in a far more inclusive way. At the micro level, we need to foster human empathy, at the meso level we need to engage coordinated collective action, and at the macro level we need to build supportive institutions. The Relational Society Project, with participating sites in the U.S., the U.K., Denmark, Norway, Nigeria, China and Pakistan, seeks to understand how communities solve complex population health challenges through relationships at all three levels.

Vision Statement

Communities successfully using the power of empathy and human connections to:

  • reinvent ourselves and our communities within the complex social reality of the world we live in
  • choose common good over individualism 
  • reflect on our shared destiny with the rest of humanity as we encounter grand societal challenges 
  • engage in coordinated collective action supported by macro institutions and policies for mitigating harm from these impending challenges
  • build ourselves a relational society of inclusion and greater cohesion toward more equitable health and wellness for all individuals and families in this global community of ours

For, the delicate balance of our future is within our own hands.

Guiding Principles

  • Trust 
  • Inclusion 
  • Distributed leadership and co-creation
  • Integrity
  • Health equity 
  • Social justice

Mission Statement

Support communities with applied research testing, enhancing and sharing the relational society guiding principles, and sharing findings on principles, actionable frameworks and tools, to create a community of practice with:

  • Common goals
  • A shared language 
  • Shared measures and tools

The Relational Society Framework

Relational Society Framework

Map of Relational Society Project sites

Project Sites

Site Leads

China - Shanghai

Hao Gong
School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University, U.S.

Qian Zhang
Center for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, University of Toronto, Canada

Cheng Huang
Center for Health Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China Hospital Development Institute, China

Ye Ju
Hospital Affairs Office, Shanghai General Hospital, China

Denmark - Haderslev

Carsten Hornstrup
Joint Action Analytics

Thomas Vestergaard Andersen
Head of of Child & Youth Services,
Haderslev Municipality, Denmark

Nigeria - Abuja

Olawale Olaleye
Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, U.S.

Farouk Jega
Pathfinder International, Nigeria 

Norway - Oslo

Claus Jebsen
BI Norwegian Business School, Norway

Pakistan - Peshawar

Muhammad Siddique 
Institute of Management Sciences, Pakistan

Saleem Gul 
Institute of Management Sciences, Pakistan

United Kingdom - West Cumbria, England

Suzanne Hamilton 
North Cumbria, National Health Service, U.K.

Heba Naim Ali
Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, U.S.

U.S. - Portland, Oregon

Sally Retecki 
CareOregon, U.S.

Gloria Coronado
CareOregon, U.S.

U.S. - Cincinnati, Ohio

Robert Kahn
Cincinnati Children's Hospital, U.S.

Carley Riley
Cincinnati Children's Hospital, U.S.

U.S. - New Orleans, Louisiana

Kenny Cole
Ochsner Health

“Relational society extends relational coordination to a whole society perspective.”

Shyamal Sharma