When is a Lab a Lab?

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Every definition is arbitrary, but in order to focus our attention we have to create some boundaries.  In my research into societal innovation labs I have been using the following criteria:

They target root-causes

  • the purpose of the lab is to identify and address systemic causes that lay at the root of persistent complex societal challenges

Multiple stakeholders and perspectives need to be included

  • due to their systemic nature complex societal challenges affect and are caused by many different actors. Hence to find new solutions and implement them a lab will have to engage and involve multiple and diverse stakeholders.

It’s a process

  • For stakeholders to come together to address on complex societal challenges a process of collaboration, learning and co-creation is required. What are the processes that allow us to address systemic challenges and to meaningfully collaborate and co-create? What is the optimal process architecture of a lab?

They are in it for the long haul

  • Social systems don’t change overnight and have their own glacial evolutionary trajectories that can last decades. Likewise complex challenges are usually not fixed with one silver bullet. Hence evolving social systems is a long-term effort. To overcome complex societal challenges we permanently need to increase society’s capacity to learn, innovate and act across boundaries.




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