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Are we really making a difference? Lessons from Nesta’s Innovation Lab

Author: Nesta
Published Date: 30 September 2014

This article originally appeared in Issue 7 of Social Space.

Are we really making a difference?

Public and social innovation labs have become very fashionable. The idea of applying experimental methodologies to social issues may have its roots in the reformers of the 19th century, but it’s only relatively recently that we’ve seen the explosion of new institutions with the explicit goal of applying structured innovation methods to solve social problems.

A systematic review is overdue, but there is already a growing body of knowledge and resources that have started to map and present lessons derived from this rapidly expanding field. In June 2014, Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies published i-teams, the first proper global survey of public innovation labs set up by national and city governments around the world. We profiled 20 of the most established, but we spoke to dozens more city and national governments that were in the process of setting up their own i-teams.

There’s a similar story to be told for social design labs in non-governmental organisations, universities and foundations and we’re starting to see big consulting firms and corporate brands joining in with their own variants. One sign of the growing maturity of the field is the increase in volume, quality and formality of the networks that bring together lab practitioners around the world. I’ve attended a few of these gatherings over the years and benefited from the openness with which colleagues have shared their practices, methods and insights.

Stay long enough at any of these meetings and conversations are inevitably drawn to one question: Are we really making a difference?

Read in full here.