Dive into Labs

Current lab processes represent a rich integration of knowledge drawn from several decades of work done around group psychology and dynamics, whole system and complexity theory, design thinking and computer visualizations and simulations. In the Dip section we introduced you to the world of labs and the kinds of processes we have found effective in working towards solutions.

The Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience has recently completed a comprehensive Social Innovation Lab Guide. Beginning in 2011, the WISIR team convened a series of conversations and learning exchanges between Christian Bason of the Danish Design Centre (and formerly of MindLab) in Copenhagen, Banny Banerjee of d.School at Stanford University in California, Luigi Ferrara of Institute Without Boundaries at George Brown College in Toronto, and Bryan Boyer, formerly of Helsinki Design Lab in Finland.

During 2014, they were fortunate to partner with the MaRS Solutions Lab, its Director Joeri van den Steenhoven, and his team in the delivery of two Lab processes. These experiences afforded us not only an opportunity to work closely with and learn from the Solutions Lab, but to test elements of the methodology proposed in this Guide.

“This Guide to a Social Innovation Lab is offered as a resource to peers, colleagues, practitioners, leaders from all sectors, and concerned citizens – all who have and/or will participate in change-making processes. One hope for this work is that these ideas on social innovation and these recommendations for new practice will result in a greater sense of urgency for those who work on what often seem like impossible aspirations for a different, better world. Probably our greatest hope is that these ideas help to transform the impossible into the possible.”

For their earlier exploration of the origins of Change or Design Labs, and ideas on the possible evolution of these processes for addressing problems in complex systems, read the SiG@Waterloo paper, “What is a Change Lab / Design Lab?”.

A Social Innovation Lab is unique because it places a more intentional focus on complex problems and integrating ideas for solutions within systems. An exciting element in the design of this unique form of lab will be the use of visualization and simulation software to allow lab participants to map and play out scenarios related to the systems in which they live and work.

There are many examples of outstanding Labs geared towards generating new solutions to complex social and environmental challenges. This includes examples of Design Labs (Helsinki Design Lab, Mindlab, Institute Without Boundaries and Stanford’s Design for Change Lab) as well as Change Labs (Reos Partners). This project has benefited from the participation of many of these leading organisations and their expertise.

There are many initiatives and organizations around the globe that incorporate labs into their important work. Here are a few examples:

For further resources, the SiG National website has a simplified one-stop resource centre on Labs which highlights links to key tools – documents, web sites, emerging insights – to support a community of practice interested in advancing this field.

A complete list of all SiG educational resources can be found in our publicly-available document library. We hope you’ve found this curated pathway to learning about Labs helpful.