Innovation labs invite a diverse set of people, who might not otherwise collaborate, to address a shared challenge. Innovation labs can bring together people within a sector or across diverse sectors, and may also include beneficiaries or representatives of local institutions. 

Each lab has its own design and methodology for generating potential innovations. Regardless of their structure, labs focus on understanding the root causes of a problem. Participants are committed to a community process in which they brainstorm, design, rapidly prototype, and refine innovations.

Innovation labs are hosted in a physical space that provides a dedicated area for teams to work together. It is beneficial for the innovation lab to run over a period of time to ensure the quality and depth of the outcome. Therefore participants should be able to devote a significant amount of time and are located close enough together to make use of the shared space.



Core Team A carefully curated diverse set of people, who might not otherwise collaborate. This may include people from diverse sectors, beneficiaries or representatives of local institutions.
Innovation Cycle Can be designed to suit any stage of innovation but most effective when the team can be given a clear task & targeted outcome
Key Roles Vertical experts: Provide expertise in their own domain
Program participants: Collaborate with experts from various fields to provide in-depth knowledge on the program goals & needs
Moderators: Setup & manage practicalities for running the lab
Essential Tools Lab plan: Outlines the purpose, objectives, conditions of participation of the lab to share with all participants
Implementation Resources:
Space for participants to meaningfully collaborate, tools & resources to design, build & test solutions ideas
Outputs From ideas to prototypes or other forms of solutions, as outlined in the purpose of the lab
Cost & Time Cost: Involving experts for a considerable duration of time, venue for the team to work, prototyping tools & resources.
Time: You can determine the duration but building a tangible prototype with a team of experts who never worked together require careful moderation and sufficient incubation time.


Problem Framing 

A social innovation lab strategically brings people together to address complex social problems by creating an environment conducive to innovation and experimentation.  Labs are most useful for complex and adaptive problems without pre-defined solutions that require a “systems view” and multi-stakeholder collaboration. Lab participants apply a new lens to the problem area, and their work specifically, by taking a “whole systems view” of the problem. Labs strategically use of a variety of methods, activities, and tools to encourage interaction and collaborative problem-solving among participants. Labs aim to generate new ideas, solutions, or opportunities to shift systems and reimagine a new normal as well as begin organizing the conditions needed in order for the new solutions to be taken up.

Design of the Lab

Most labs take place in a physical space for the group to work together and reconvene. However, labs can also exist virtually. The space and time lab participants spend together should nurture the team spirit by providing inviting atmosphere to socialize, and provide a conducive environment for developing and prototyping ideas. Ideally, labs generate new knowledge, new networks and build the capacity of the participants involved.

Identification & Engagement of Experts

Identifying and successfully recruiting participants in the lab is a critical success factor. It is important to bring together a diverse set of stakeholders, often including people from different sectors, unusual suspects, and beneficiaries. These perspectives are critical to: 1) Reframe the problem, 2) Identify root causes, 3) Co-create and refine prototypes of solution, and 4) Mobilize a network necessary to implement and sustain solutions. In addition to deepening participants’ understanding of the system and fostering a degree of general openness to transformation, the lab fosters relationships that can directly contribute to catalyzing innovations. Ideal participants have the capacity to act on their experiences in the lab and work towards the implementation of the ideas generated.

The lab should motivate participants to engage by helping them see their unique role and expertise to contribute to the purpose. Having a tangible solution at the end also helps motivating the new team. Labs can require a significant time commitment from participants so its important to clearly present your mission, expectations on their roles, and the outcome of the lab along with practicalities such as duration and the physical location.

Milestones & Next Steps

A core part of social innovation labs is to test and refine early versions of the solutions through rapid prototyping. This ensures  solutions are grounded in the real world, decreases the risk at the time of implementation down the road and encourages efficient learning.  To be effective, a prototype should simulate interaction between the relevant actors/agents (e.g., system dynamics, feedback loops, multiple perspectives, trade-offs). Labs go through a series of convergent and divergent processes not only to ensure the team’s ideas are going into the right direction, but also to provide necessary resources and support in a timely manner.