Frustration… it’s a normal thing :-)

Wieteke & Jos, 17–08–2015, reflection

It’s Monday morning — while the whole world is going to work after the weekend, we’re already at day 3 of the LabSprint. A new morning means a new check-in. After reading every the Whatsapp message and after seeing many cool photo’s the whole Lab staff is excited to hear about everyones experiences.

We asked all team members to share their stories — both the cool experiences but also the things that were difficult. Everyone experienced something different, but there was one similarity that stood out. Every team member has an enormous passion to help out the people they’ve met — both the homeless and the elderly. We’re digging deep into both cases and the first stories are already being published here, on the blog!

(Lonely) elderly?
Not everything is easy though. It proved hard to find elderly people that feel lonely. The elderly we’ve spoken to on the streets and in the parks often didn’t fit our case. This lead to some relevant questions in team Smarties; should we pursue this case, even if we only have today to hunt for more stories? Together we decided that we will focus on elderly people in general, whether they feel lonely or not. We’re very curious to see which services or products they make use of, and what they think about them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that loneliness among the elderly is not a problem anymore, it’s just too hard to get enough useful stories in the limited time we have during the LabSprint. This target group might be a good example of ‘invisibles’, the citizens that may need welfare services the most but are at the same time also the most difficult group to reach out to.

A problem for whom?
Team Urban Nomads had some interesting insights to share as well. After talking to a few service providers working within this target group it seemed that the community doesn’t perceive homelessness as a problem. For example, the guard at the entrance of a local park lets homeless people sleep there, as long as they don’t cause trouble. Another interesting story to pursue is about an NGO that provides free lunch boxes to the homeless. One person was very happy to receive it, but also felt that other people were becoming inactive and dependent, so he wondered whether this service is useful ultimately.

As we speak, the teams are out on the streets again collecting new stories, and checking yesterday’s stories. In duo’s they’re hunting for at least one in depth interview — something which is not that easy — and they’re reaching out to relevant stakeholders such as NGO’s to blog about their perspective, and to invite them to the collaborative evaluation this Wednesday.

The real world
Getting in touch with these stakeholders is an important aspect of running a Social Lab, but also one of the most difficult parts. This is the case in the Netherlands, but also here in Hong Kong. Of course, we’re asking them to participate on short notice, but it also seems that they don’t always know the GoodLab and are operating on a hierarchical level, which makes requesting an interview a time-consuming process. Lastly, not every organisation is primarily focussed on the empowerment of citizens — which is an important part of our process.

The Lab team feels at times (and we share that feeling!) frustrated about this. Obviously, we hope that many stakeholders will attend the collaborative evaluation on Wednesday, in order to have an as open and multi-sided evaluation and brainstorm as possible. However, the possibility that not many stakeholders will be there is something we need to be aware of. That this leads to frustration is understandable.

Dilemma’s of a Lab
As the Lab staff we’d like to comment on this a bit. This feeling of frustration is the result of a dilemma that may arise while running a lab, a dilemma that we also spoke about during the first Open Class. A Lab may sometimes feel like a playground, because we grant ourselves the luxury to spend a few days hunting stories and digging deep into a case that we feel committed to. However, the real world is still spinning around outside the Lab. The real world, where people and organisations have their own stakes and agenda’s, might have conflicting interests, and have their own ways of working.

There is no community if you don’t build one
This shows us, once again, that community building is one of the most important parts of bringing about social change, and in that matter, in running a Social Lab. As we have seen in the presentation of Joy during the Open Class, community building takes time. A lot of time - that we don’t have. For example, we as Kennisland are founded 15 years ago, where the Good Lab has only been around for 3 years now, and our Lab Sprint is only 3 days old!

Of course, while organising this Lab Sprint, the whole Lab staff tried to prepare as much as was possible. We actually had a pretty big discussion about this topic before we came to Hong Kong. We were thinking about inviting the local NGO’s etc. up front to come to the collective evaluation on Wednesday, but we also had some doubts doing that. Namely, when we would have identified the stakeholders before we’ve spoken to the end users, this would show our bias towards the cases we are working on. For example, the stakeholders we could identify might not necessarily be the stakeholders that the end users identify als important in their lives.

The next few days we will make room to discuss the topic of community building, because it proves to be very important in bringing about social change. At this point, we’d like to emphasise that participating in this Lab Sprint is primarily an immersive learning experience. Of course we’re trying to achieve as much impact as we can, but sometimes we need to take a step back to reflect on the process within a Lab in order to learn more about what is necessary to achieve this impact.

A (little) change of plans
Tomorrow, both the teams will distill the disconnects and the recurring themes in the stories we have collected. On Wednesday, we will organise the collective evaluation with everyone that will be there. We might not be sure yet who will attend, but we will work with whoever is there! Next to talking about the recurring themes and brainstorming about directions of possible solutions, we will also talk with them about community building. What do they think about this topic? What have they done to achieve this? Do they feel that this is an important theme as well?

Thursday is all about prototyping the ideas we’ve generated on Wednesday. Next to prototyping new products and services about the two cases, we will also prototype new ways of community building. Hopefully this leads not only to results from the perspective of our end users and our cases, but also regarding the infrastructure that is necessary in order to facilitate unusual conversations and to bring about social change in Sham Shui Po in general.

We believe that going through this learning process (including the frustrating moments) together will provide everyone (team and staff!) with new insights, tools and experience that are useful in our work. Not only here in Sham Shui Po, but also elsewhere after this Lab Sprint.

That being said, we can’t wait to read more blogs tonight and hear about your stories tomorrow at the check-in. Please let us know what you think about this blog and have a good night!