Connect. Collaborate. Create community change.

Convene your own Social Innovation Lab

We invite you to consider organizing an innovation lab of your own, focused on a topic and/or location that you are passionate about. The Lab Leadership Team is currently partnering with several groups to support them in initiate their own lab. We can offer coaching, connection to other people who might be interested, and partnership in the design and facilitation of your lab.


Maybe a small group at a previous lab sparked an idea for a topic of an innovation lab you want to initiate

When would it makes sense to convene your own lab?
1. There is a common innovation question that a network of people you know are working toward, and you’re looking for breakthroughs to progress, together, to the next level. The innovation question is a combination of audacious and realistic.
2. You’d like to work in ways that reflect the guiding principles listed below.
3. A core group of people, from more than one organization, is committed to both convening a lab event and following up on action ideas and potential collaborations that come out of the event.
4. You are willing to share learning from your lab and be in relationship with other topic specific labs to bridge learning across networks of innovation.

Guidelines for convening your own for topic-specific innovation lab

1. Bring together a microcosm of the system you are seeking to change, including those served, policy makers, funders, front line workers, family members of those served, and others who are impacted by that system. This microcosm will be reflected in both your core group (#2) and the public event (#6).
2. Start by building a core convening group committed to a common innovation question and also committed to collaboration that supports action coming out of the lab. It is important to build a group of members with diverse perspectives and a representative from each part of the system you are trying to create change within. The majority of the core group should have first hand experience with the issue at hand. It is also helpful to have members with the following attributes: a champion from the community who can see the vision around the issue, someone who is good at outreach/media, 1-2 event facilitation designers and someone good with details. Ensure that each member of the group is clear on their role and expectations. Determining the members of the core group is critical to setting the conditions for success.
3. With the core group, develop a shared intention and innovation question.  Utilizing the design document (at the link) is helpful in being clear about the intentions of the lab and ensuring that all members of the core group are on the same page. During this process, provide the core group the opportunity to dream together and then scope what is possible to accomplish in a lab. Provide ample time to complete the design document and get agreement on the purpose and intent of the lab. The rest of the designing and planning goes quickly if enough time spent on the purpose of the event. Have a clear scope for the lab; what’s included and what isn’t. As a group, build collaborative and authentic relationships that model the kind of collaboration you will invite other people into.
4. Consciously address power and privilege differences in the group you are working with on the lab, making space for many kinds of power, in service of breakthrough on your innovation question.
5. Invite several organizations and individuals who are not based in organizations who care about your innovation question to be a part of the public event.
6. Host at least one public event (a half-day or longer) to engage other people in seeking breakthroughs on your innovation question. In this event and in follow-up to the event, you will:

a. Research and listen deeply to the system you are seeking to change from multiple perspectives, including those with least power in the system, and those the system seeks to serve.
b. Retreat and reflect together to listen for breakthrough possibilities. See what you hear through conversation and reflection
c. Crystallize possible breakthrough ideas that come forward.
d. Prototype ideas that crystallize to quickly learn through action.

7. Lab design tips:

a. Consider creating a sub-team to work on the lab design to present back to the core group for feedback.
b. The design should be primarily the participants talking, not individuals doing presentations. Consider small group conversations of no more than 6 people. If these small groups are facilitated, choose your facilitators wisely. It is preferable to have someone who is not a subject matter expert facilitate, so they can focus on facilitating versus providing content.
c. Make sure to set a solid foundation of open listening at the lab.
d. If providing lab participants an agenda, keep it general enough for things to shift.
e. Consider doing a “dress rehearsal” before the lab, walking through who does what and when

8. Prepare for how to connect participants after the lab. Consider how to help those attending to stay connected or continue the momentum from the lab. (Share emails to participants, on-line discussion board, Facebook page, etc.) Designate someone to put together notes from the lab and send out to all participants. Schedule a planning meeting for the core convening group for a week or two after the public event, to decide on next steps. If you’d like to, you could make an open invitation at the public event for people to join this follow-up planning meeting.

9. Evaluate the impact of the Lab with a follow-up survey for participants, and with a debriefing meeting of key hosts and organizers.
10. Both in the lab process and in follow-up action, close gaps (acknowledge structural dynamics & cultural beliefs that manifest as persistent gaps in well-being and act in ways that close those gaps).
11. Collect and share what you are learning with the broader Social Innovation Lab network, both about the process of doing a lab, as well as insights and actions that advance your innovation question.

Questions to answer as you prepare for your own lab

Suggested resources to support your lab

The basic cooking principles for creating a Social Innovation Lab

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