Over the last decade or so labs for social change have developed into a force within the ever expanding family of ‘the social’. From the Finance Innovation Lab in the UK to the Human Centered Design lab in Cambodia. From the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at Harvard to MindLab in Denmark, labs pop up around the world in increasing numbers.
Hivos too experiments with lab-like approaches to change. For example, with Ushadidi and Afrilabs, we pioneered support to the emergence of a thriving scene of tech hubs in Africa. These now form the backbone for innovation in our Making All Voices Count programme. In the Middle-East we support incubators and creative spaces for new discussions, impulses and ventures in the region among young (social) entrepreneurs.
In order to understand better how these labs function, we are building up a body of critical knowledge about labs in our Civic Explorations Knowledge Program, in close cooperation with Kennisland. In this spirit, Hivos and Kennisland brought together 40 lab practitioners and policy makers in Amsterdam in 2013. Based on this meeting, Marlieke Kieboom of Kennisland wrote this article critically highlighting the dynamics which are often overlooked in the hype around labs. She underlines labs often fall prey to solutionalism, tend to overlook the power of politics, over emphasize scaling of solutions and underestimate the messy nature of human beings. While pointing out the potential value of labs, the paper adds a number of critical perspectives about labs that both funders and lab practitioners cannot afford to miss.