As I wrote in a previous blog, social innovation labs are taking the world by storm, or so it seems. They’re popping up everywhere around themes ranging from urban renewal to service innovation, on tough issues in need of systemic innovation such as energy, food, and finance, and around a range of topics related to technology, creativity and co-working.
Labs have recently also caught the imagination and curiosity of policy makers, funders and academics. And so, we have seen a flurry of conferences, books, and papers trying to make sense of this phenomenon. Our two cents worth of action at Hivos included a global conference on labs last year, a few papers, and the funding of a number of lab-networks, especially in Africa.
Labs may be spreading like wildfire, but that doesn’t say much yet about their impact. To put it more provocatively, while drenched in radical imaginative speak such as systems change, co-creation, transformation and radical out of the box solutions, lab results, if present at all, beg some more modesty.
So, is this just an empty hype, or are we witnessing the beginning of a reservoir of new approaches, strategies and impacts towards the systemic changes warranted by a plethory of crises that mark the beginning of the 21st century?
To find out, we felt, it may be productive to look at the real-life practices of labs, especially those labs that already have some substance to show for their intentions. The problem however is that the best labs are in high demand and that the practitioners themselves in those labs have even less time on their hands.
Adam Hyde offered us a fantastic way out with his concept of a facilitated booksprint. The recipe is simple: write a book in 4 days, together, there and then. We floated this idea among some of the best labs we knew and most of them bought in immediately. Found out that prominent labs such as the E-lab in Colorado, the Finance Innovation lab from London and others were eager to share some of their insights and experiences.
And so, 12 practitioners from 8 labs signed up to meet in Stratford, birthplace of Shakespeare, early May. Most of them, as did we, arrived with modest expectations. At best we thought, we might create framework, collect some stories and arrive at a number of common findings.
Turned out we were wrong. Turned out that Adam confined us to his ‘there and then’ mantra and it worked. Turned out that instead of a collection of separate stories, we managed to find a collective voice speaking to a number of common issues that practitioners face when conducting the craft of labbing, or as we came to call it: Labcraft.
For some more impressions on what it’s like to do booksprint, check out our website and this blog. More importantly perhaps, here’s a link to the book that is now available for free, in return for a donation or on sale at Amazon.
Labcraft discusses a common worldview that lies at the heart of these labs, a worldview of a transitional time in history. It write about how labs see it as their task to enable the new to emerge amidst the old. How that task requires labs to forge connections across silod and often conflicted spheres, peole and sectors. And what that implies for every day issues such as offices, funding, skills and management. It is not the books intention to spell out the new gospel and reap the praise. Rather, the book exposes the many dilemmas, doubts and questions on what labcraft entails. It intends to demistify the hype, inspire and encourage other practitioners working on social change. Its objective is to grow a community of practice, committed to the idea that in the field of change and innovation, the how is as important, if not more important than the what.
So, have a look, join our community and let us know your thoughts.