Josh Yates

Josh Yates

Executive Director, Belmont Innovation Labs

Belmont Innovation Labs, Pathway 2: Data-Informed Social Innovation

Ph.D., University of Virginia; M.A., University of Virginia; B.A., University of Montana


Josh Yates is Executive Director of the Belmont Innovation Labs at Belmont University and Founder and CEO of the national nonprofit, Thriving Cities Group. Trained as a cultural and community sociologist, Dr. Yates weaves together two decades of academic research and socially-based practice in an on-going investigation of what it means and takes to thrive in contemporary community contexts.

As a scholar, he has pursued both the moral and cultural evolution of the ideal of human thriving and the changing social and institutional realities that makethriving more or less possible in the contemporary world. He has sought out its origins in the great moral and theological traditions from which we have inherited our modern preoccupations with human happiness, dignity, and rights. He has pursued it in the context of American history by charting how our cultural understandings of thriving have been evolving from the Puritans down to the present. He has studied how Western ideals of human thriving have been brought to every corner of the earth through the missions of international humanitarian and human rights organizations, and how a technocratic vision of human thriving is today being propagated through the rise of "smart," technologically-enhancedcities globally. 

As a social practitioner, he has endeavored to translate the insights of this research into practical frameworks and tools that equip leaders and organizations to understand their contexts and cultivate thriving civic ecosystems. This includes the development of the Human Ecology Framework, a holistic lens for identifying the critical community endowments upon which thriving depends; Community Craft, a curriculum series designed to train community leaders in the art of building thriving communities; and a series of civic software tools, including The Indicator Explorer, a web-based tool for discerning how to measure community thriving, and RoundTable, a data platform that builds intelligence for community building and problem solving. Most recently, he is the co-author of the Field Guide for Urban University-Community Partnerships, the first ever national survey of how American universities and colleges are engaging their local communities and trying to reestablish their social value to a questioning public.