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The rise of social innovation labs


I’ve written a bit in the last month or so about the maker movement, and in particular the various projects that are emerging around the world to take a sharing economy style approach to this.

The likes of TechShop and BioCurious provide fully featured workshops and laboratories for interested parties to come along and use, much as people go to their local gym to work out.

Many of these facilities have sponsoring organizations that are used both to provide a baseline of members but also to help fertilize some of the ideas and innovations that emerge from the facilities.

Suffice to say, both TechShop and BioCurious are in the science and engineering fields.  Social Innovation Labs are attempting to provide similar facilities for the softer subjects of change.

Social Innovation Labs are designed to bring together a diverse group of people and opinions to try and tackle some of the more challenging and complex problems we face.  They tend to do this via the creation of prototype solutions that are tested in the real world, before then being continuously improved.

Each lab tries to take a systemic approach to the task, going beyond looking at symptoms and parts to try and get to the root cause of why things are currently not working.

Finance Innovation Lab

One such lab near me is the Finance Innovation Lab in London.  It was a collaborative effort by the World Wildlife Fund and the Chartered Institute of Accountants.  It aims to create a new and fairer financial system, and does this in three core ways:

  • They incubate new business models, innovation in mainstream and new forms of civil society
  • They accelerate the capacity of leaders to create change
  • They create the wider conditions for change by raising awareness, creating supportive communities and advocating for policy change

Create your own innovation lab

There are social innovation labs springing up all over the world, and indeed UNICEF have created their own guide on how you can go about creating your own.

The document aims to give you everything you need to setup an innovation lab, informing you of the kind of things a lab contains, the steps involved in setting up and running one, and a few case studies you can use for inspiration.  The document itself fits in with the spirit of the labs, and is designed to be built upon by practitioners from around the world, who are invited to add their own structures, documents and so on to the guide.

This is an evolving version of this Do-It-Yourself Guide—and we invite you to submit your lab structures, your documents and your knowledge to the project so that future versions can grow, learn, and build.

I must confess, it isn’t an area that I know a great deal about, but there are a couple of books out that chart the rise of the social innovation labs.  The second of these, called LabCraft, have a map on their website highlighting some of the labs around the world, which is great if you want to delve deeper into this growing movement.

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