Social Labs are built on the assumption and experience that an increasing complexity in the problems we face compels us to find new ways of solving them. These solutions are more comprehensive and more readily owned if they are co-created by the stakeholders impacted by the challenge.
There are millions of laboratories around the world dedicated to the natural sciences and technology, receiving trillions of dollars in funding. How many laboratories around the world are dedicated to addressing social issues? Social labs include strategies for addressing complex social challenges. They have three core characteristics: they are social, experimental, and systemic.
They are social.
Social labs start by bringing together diverse participants to work in a team that acts collectively. They are ideally drawn from different sectors of society, such as government, business and community. The integral participation of diverse stakeholders, as opposed to teams of experts, defines the social nature of social labs.
They are experimental.
Social labs are not one-off experiences. They’re ongoing and sustained efforts. The team takes an iterative approach to the challenges it wants to address—prototyping interventions, incorporating feedback, and managing a portfolio of promising solutions.
They are systemic.
The ideas and initiatives developed in social labs go beyond dealing with symptoms and address the root cause of why things are not working.
Social issues are collective action problems where some form of capital is being depleted. In a challenge like poverty, we see a decline in multiple forms of capital: for example, a set of skills becoming redundant, a lack of funding to support entrepreneurship, and so on. Successful social labs can re-generate different forms of capital, in order to address the most complex challenges.