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Experimental spaces for social innovation: About the discussion

Published Date: 14 December 2012

Across the globe, we are seeing the rise of a multitude of labs, hubs, incubators and accelerators designed to catalyse and grow social innovation. Often these focus on systematic experimentation: quick development, testing and iteration, implementing and scaling of game-changing solutions to the ‘wicked problems’ facing society. Some of these structures are embedded in the public sector or academia, while others are rooted in local communities. Some are focussing on sector-specific solutions, while others are working in issue-specific ways, targeting innovations across wide-ranging issues such as poverty, ageing, carbon neutrality, sanitation and education. Some of these centres are virtual, while others are physical spaces. Many embrace the principle of broad-based participation, reaching out and bringing together multiple partners, from business, to government, to NGOs and citizens.

This global TelePresence discussion brought together people from North America, Europe and Africa to discuss, compare and contrast a variety of dynamic models, which support the development of new ideas to tackle societal challenges. Participants debated some key questions: How is the lab model different to traditional approaches to solving complex social challenges? What makes an effective lab? Who should be involved and what are the best ways to engage multiple, diverse actors? What are the benefits of a physical space versus virtual spaces or distributed models? What can social innovation labs learn from technological innovation hubs and labs?

This session was part of a broader programme of work being carried out by the Young Foundation, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, geared at surfacing and spreading high potential ways to catalyse social innovation.