What are Social Innovation Labs?

Social Innovation Labs attempt to promote citizen-centric activism with a systemic, community-based focus. According to social innovator Indy Johar, “the biggest revolution of the 21st century will not be the technologies, it will be about us: how we organize ourselves at scale and to affect systems.”

Where entrepreneurial innovation often focuses on developing a solution or product that can scale easily, social innovation is different because of the nature of problems to be solved. Many social problems are wicked problems which are impossible to solve because their causes are difficult to define.

The old fable about the blind men trying to fathom an elephant by feeling it from different sides describes the problem we are facing. Where one feels the trunk is a snake, another is sure that the foot is a tree and a third believes the tail is a rope. Without the ability to have a dialogue of the different aspects, the blind men would not be able to fathom the elephant in the room.

Blind men and an elephant.

However, because the wicked problems exist in a highly dynamic social environment that is comprised of actors that are diversified in location, perspectives and efforts, it’s not possible to completely fathom the elephants in our societies as they keep changing.

Thus instead of coming up with a solution, the complexity involved in social issues requires sustained and distributed activities to influence desired outcomes. That two-year research, business or participatory sense-making project in social innovation falls short in what it seeks to do.

This is where Social Innovation Labs enter the stage as an organizational innovation for social issues. It is a complexity-informed approach that seeks to enable open communities that collaborate to create movements that seek to influence distributed actors to affect a given problem.

One example of a Social Innovation Lab is called the “North Camden Zone”, a collective effort that seeks to tackle the problem of child poverty in the locale, where over a third of children are directly affected. Their report of their first two years of operation called “Building Impact Movements: Place-based systems change for children and young people in North Camden” details their learning process related to the problem and how to approach it. The goal for them is to create an Impact Movement in North Camden using multiple approaches and methods to affect their cause in a systemic manner.

The methods in use in the North Camden Zone effort. Source: Building Impact Movements

In short, Social Innovation Labs seek to:

  • foster socially oriented innovations
  • by enabling movements of open communities or ecosystems to collaborate
  • in a sustainable or continuous manner
  • on the root causes
  • of social issues.

Join the discussion on how we could influence social innovation in Finland on Facebook: Social Innovation for Systems Change Finland