Our Social Innovation Lab approach

Our Labs are designed to focus on complex problems and to build strategies for transformation in systems. 

We share some common attributes with other Labs, and pay particular attention to building strong relationships to see through the lengthy process.

At the beginning of any collaboration it is most important to gather well and to take the time to build connection between people who may not have worked together before, and in some instances, may have worked at crossed purposes. The Lab process allows all participants to bring their experiences, knowledges and skills into a room along with their ideas and opinions about how change happens. The facilitated process invites in and supports differences and diversity; working with it towards an outcome of shared interest. 

We use a multi-stakeholder process that brings together individuals and organizations who are impacted by the problem as well as those who can enable and implement the solutions. This often includes community members, governments, philanthropy, academia, entrepreneurs and businesses who have a vested interest in finding sustainable solutions.

We combine human-centred design and systems thinking and take a decolonized approach to develop and identify solutions that address the root causes of complex challenges and create systemic change. 

We follow a tailored process that includes problem framing, research, ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementation. The goal is to develop sustainable solutions that have a lasting impact on the challenges being addressed.

Introducing a prototype into a complex system is not an easy task, and our SI Labs pay attention to building the conditions for introducing a tested innovation from the beginning. The participants invited into the process are critical, as is the prototyping process itself. Should a particular innovation hit too many barriers in feasibility testing, we redesign and test again. 

The Innovation Swirl, developed by Nesta and adapted by Mark Cabaj, is a useful illustration of the phases followed in a Lab process. It’s helpful in describing the general flow of a project, but it is unable to capture the experience in full. Labs do not follow a linear path. You may have to go back and further research or ideate long after you felt you were finished with that phase. Similarly, the performance phase may need it’s own innovation swirl process to introduce the tested innovation into a system.

The graphic is also unable to capture what SI Canada believes is a vital part of the process; that is, the relational approach to the co-creation and engagement that takes place in the Lab. Coming into good relationship with one another is as important as the work activities performed throughout any given project.