A foolish question perhaps. How about Task Force? Advisory Body? Expert Panel? Regardless these forms have been around for a long time.
Now a new vehicle or container is emerging simultaneously in many parts of the world. It's generic description is 'social laboratory'. These 'labs' have a specific function: to convene multiple and diverse parties to explore, experiment and prototype solutions to 'hard to solve' problems. It's too soon to tell but it may take its place beside these other more established forms.
Reos Partners and Adam Kahane call them Change Labs. Christian Bason has just written a new book, Leading Public Sector Innovation – Co-Creating for a Better Society, on the Danish MindLab he has created. Res Publica in London refers to them as 'social labs' and community 'lablets.' NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) in the UK has a lab for Public Sector Innovation. Bob Logan, Chief Scientist and Professor Emeritus University of Toronto calls them sLabs – Strategic Innovation Labs. Danone the French multi-national food corporation has a Social Innovation Lab. The Australian Centre for Social Innovation has a lab for testing ideas, methods and projects and prototyping solutions. A 72,000 square metres Social Innovation Park has just been opened near Bilbao Spain. It will host a G-Lab an innovative testbed for identifying "emerging social tendencies, applying participatory democracy methodologies and evaluating current social services." 'G' is Gizartea which is Basque for society.
Regardless of name these labs are being used for reasons as precise as those that led to the invention of the other forms mentioned above. Labs are containers:
- where complex problems – problems that have defied problem solving by one group, department or sector – can be addressed together
- where public servants, non profits, corporations, individuals and families can systematically experiment and prototype new solutions in a risk free environment
- where people affected by the issue or problem as well as those with the power or resources to do something about it can create solutions together. As Adam Kahane observed recently in Vancouver – if you are not part of the problem you can't be part of the solution.
Advocates who realize they cannot solve problems on their own and are looking to engage other sectors, particularly government and business may want to propose a laboratory to tackle their tough challenges.