Connect. Collaborate. Create community change.

What We Learned From Our Lab Hosting Experience

The following document is a summary of key learnings, based on the experience of planning and implemetning the Social Innovation Food Lab held in North Minneapolis. This document was developed to assist the Social Innovation Leadership team along with future topic-specific Social Innovation lab teams set the conditions for a successful lab. The data collection consisted of six interviews with design team members, all members of the Social Innovation Lab design team.

Important factors to consider when organizing a social innovation lab:

Determine whom you need on your organizing team

Make sure your organizing team consists of: 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, someone good with details.


Build a team with diverse perspectives

Make sure to have organizing team members with diverse perspectives and a representative from all parts of the system you are trying to create change within. The majority of the organizing team should have first hand experience with the issue at hand. Determining the members of the organizing team is critical to setting the conditions for success.


Provide clear roles for team members

Make sure each member is clear on their intention for being a part of the lab, knows their role on the team and the expectations.


Be clear on vision and scope

Utilizing the design document provided by the Social Innovation Lab is helpful in being clear about the intentions of the lab and ensuring that all members of the organizing team are on the same page. Provide organizing team the opportunity to dream together and then scope what is possible to accomplish in a lab. Provide ample time to complete 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.


Create a framing/context document up front

Create a framing document that helps communicate to the participants the purpose and background information needed to get everyone on the same page (info, statistics, etc.)


Create a sub-team for design

Develop a sub team to work on design of the lab. Make sure that you have at least one person on the team that is a trained facilitator and designer of participatory events.


Give time for building trust within the organizing team.

The organizing team needs enough time to get to know each other and build trust during the development of the lab. Consider having the organizing team meet over food for a non-working meal for bonding purposes


Invite all parts of the system

Make sure to invite all parts of the system you are trying to change to the lab so that you have the opportunity for the system to see itself.


Be clear whether it is the right time for the lab.

Make sure the community is ready and ripe for the conversation. Is there enough already happening in the community for people to rally around? If not, is there enough “pain” in the community for something to take hold?


Find a location to meet your needs.

Select a location that can accommodate your needs, specifically the ability for participants to move around, talk in small groups and amble wall/easels, and good audio system. (Note: Note: If done during a Muslim prayer time, designate a space for Muslims to pray.)


Choose small group facilitators wisely

Make sure and have any facilitators of conversation be prepared for their role. Preferably someone not too close to the topic so they can facilitate and possibly not content experts. Provide brief role description for facilitators.


Get clear on logistics 2 weeks before event

Utilize a logistics checklist to help with planning.


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.) Consider designating someone to put together notes from the lab and send out to all participants.


Design tips:

Here are some tips about design.

  • The design should be primarily the participants talking, not individuals doing presentations.
  • Make sure to set a solid foundation of open listening at the lab.
  • Consider small group conversations of no more than 6 people in the design.
  • If providing lab participants an agenda, keep it general enough for things to shift.
  • Keep any framing/presenting at the beginning as short as possible.

Prep for lab

Have a “dress rehearsal” before the event, walking through who does what and when.



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