What are social labs?

A social innovation lab (or simply social lab or “lab”) refers to a process that brings together many stakeholders to address complex social problems involving research, experimentation, prototypingPrototype: an experiment that helps answer questions about how to design and implement a solution to a problem using quick mock-ups, visual aids, or other tangible interfaces so the assumptions behind proposed new ideas can be tested with those most affected. and testing solutions.

Labs are convened to generate high-potential interventions by carefully listening to all those affected. They bring research to bear on a problem in order to gain system-level insights that will help redefine problems and identify opportunities for introducing innovation.

There are a variety of lab techniques and types emerging that are focused on a range of issues across different scopes and scales. Some take an ethnographic approachEthnographic approach: based in social sciences research, its purpose is to understand the lived realities of people who are experiencing a social challenge through research techniques including fieldwork, participant observation, and cultural immersion. to understanding the mindsets and behaviours of people in organizations or systems. Others have a geographic or thematic focus and engage different stakeholders over varying time periods.

Labs begin with a focus on defining problems, mapping systems and gaining a deep understanding of the dynamics that hold systems in place. By supporting multi-stakeholder engagement and prototyping, labs are particularly effective for addressing complex challenges.

McConnell is committed to the development of the social lab field and currently supports labs working on a number of issues.

Labs are taking root in cities, national public services and universities to address many social and resource challenges, and are being led by different stakeholder groups.