Exploring Social Innovation Labs

I recently had the good fortune to take training on social innovation labs (social labs) with Zaid Hassan, co-founder of Reos Partners and Roller Strategies and author of Social Labs Revolution - A new approach to solving our most complex challenges (2014). Congrats to the people at NouLab for organizing the training!

In particular, I want to share this approach with people working on Acadian development. What I find especially relevant is the very important place experimentation has in it.

Social innovation labs are based on a methodology for committing to resolving complex social problems, which are not only those more traditionally defined as social ones such as poverty and gender equality, but also economic, environmental and other problems.

Very briefly, here are the three main characteristics of social labs according to Hassan:

1. Diversified teams (including diversity and representatives from various sectors such as government, the private sector and non-profit organizations);

2. An iterative process facilitating experimentation in which solutions-prototypes are tested;

3. Spaces promoting systemic action.

Because it standardizes trial and error, experimentation is an intelligent way of avoiding the fear of error and failure that is an enormous obstacle to development.

Numerous times during my years in the associative sector, I had to deal with the frustration of seeing some of my colleagues' and my more experimental ideas rejected because they had not yet been proven. That rejecting attitude is a good means of protection in an organization but, unfortunately, also a way of making sure there is no innovation.  The social labs approach has the advantage of legitimizing experimentation for people who could have some doubts or be afraid of taking a risk.

Instead of being based on "best practices" and "not re-inventing the wheel" (how many times have we heard these expressions, which seem to be irrefutable?), the social labs approach is based on the real commitment of concerned people and stakeholders to a collaborative and systemic creative process.

Happy exploring!


Sarah LeBlanc  

Social and Organizational Change Strategist

Guest Blogger   







Amanda Hachey