The radical’s dilemma: an overview of the practice and prospects of Social and Public Labs.

This article was originally written by Geoff Mulgan on the Nesta website.

In this paper, Geoff Mulgan looks at the various social and public labs across around the world. He summarises his personal view of the field of innovation labs – and what might lie ahead – largely based on Nesta experience.

The report looks at the ways in which labs need to be both insiders and outsiders at the same time – and the practical challenges of the classic ‘radical’s dilemma’. If they stand too much inside the system they risk losing their radical edge; if they stand too far outside they risk having little impact. It follows that the most crucial skill they need to learn is how to navigate the inherently unstable role of being both insiders and outsiders; campaigners and deliverers; visionaries and pragmatists.

It suggests a typology for understanding them and describes some of the challenges they face – in particular, the radical’s dilemma of having to work both inside and outside established systems.