The knowledge network on ‘Transformative pathways to sustainability: learning across disciplines, contexts and cultures’ will convene multi-stakeholder processes called ‘transformation labs’ (T-Labs) in order to foster change in the systems being studied by each hub. This approach follows the emphasis of the ISSC, and in particular the ‘Transformations to Sustainability’ programme, on co-production. This note aims to provide an accessible introduction to the concept of “transformation labs” and the “social innovation lab guide”, and how they are linked, as they will be used in the network to set up and run the labs.
Problem been clearly identified as complex There is a ‘convenor’ for the lab process who feels significant ownership over the problem and strong motivation Confusion and dissention around what is going on and why, combined with a sense that business as usual is no longer an option Key transition at hand eg. a noticeable shift in culture, political changeover, economic instability, etc.? Existence of a collective sense of urgency among likely participants in seeing innovation within a certain problem domain Do innovations (i.e., experiments with alternative approaches) abound in the problem domain but none of them have been successful at catalyzing positive transformation
T-Labs are still a rather abstract idea and overlap with a number of other ideas and methods that have been used to deal with sustainability challenges. The specific experience of work and background of each team also will affect the way in which the T-Lab ideas and methods will be applied
What is a Transformation Lab (T-Lab)?
What is a Transformation Lab
(T-lab) and how does it work?
‘Transformative pathways to sustainability: learning across disciplines, contexts
Based on the discussions at the Buenos Aires Inception Meeting
of the Pathways Network, April 2016.
• There is a dominant domain to be challenged
• There are diverse perspectives that see the problem
in a different way
• Think about agency (who), institutional context to act,
• Is there a window of opportunity?
• T-Labs have a social-ecological component
What is a lab?
• “...a highly designed and expert facilitated process
intended to support multi-stakeholder groups in
addressing a complex social problem.” (Page 7 SILG)
• Not just ‘stakeholder engagement’, but an intentional
intervention in the system that requires a deeply
planned process (e.g. who will be there, what is
question) whilst allowing for emergence and the
unexpected to occur
Goal of a T-lab
• Develop a change strategy that tests multiple
solutions, which together could solve the challenge.
• Helps to create early prototypes of interventions, to
frame the challenge, build momentum for action, to
find the innovators and build their capacity to more
effectively address the challenge.
When to convene a lab process
• Problem identified as complex
• There is a ‘convenor’ - significant ownership over the problem and
• Confusion and dissention around what is going on and why
• Key transition at hand
• Existence of a collective sense of urgency
• Innovations (i.e., experiments with alternative approaches) abound
in the problem domain, but none of them have been successful so
far at catalysing positive transformation
When not to hold a T-lab
• No interest or sense of ownership of the problem
• There is limited capacity or interest to invest significant time
to the process
• There is no flexibility to explore or change the focal
question / challenge
Process of designing a T-lab
• Convening actors is critical
• Who do you need in the room?
• How are you going to get them there? What are their incentives
to take part in a time-consuming process?
• Individuals, rather than sector representatives
• How? There is a range of methodological tools to
accomplish particular goals, and these need to occur in a
particular order (see Social Innovation Lab Guide)
• Learning journeys to ’see’ other perspectives
• Role-playing to disrupt entrenched power dynamics
• Stimulate creativity and problem-solving
• Promote openness to new ways of doing things
• What methods and indicators will we use for
• How do we keep the momentum after (or between)
the T-Lab events? Is that a desired outcome?
• Consider the ethics of intervention in the system,
especially when dealing with vulnerable groups
What makes a T-lab different?
• Multi-stakeholder groups: diverse stakeholders from
different sectors and backgrounds
• Social-ecological interaction: address sustainability
problems rather than purely societal problems
• Co-producing innovations: (social-ecological
innovation) - production of (a) testable solution(s)
• A window of opportunity that can be identified
(preferable, but not essential)
• Different contexts - especially in the global South
• You must manage expectations
• Be deeply reflexive of ethics of intervention in a
• Diverse cultural contexts
• T-labs are based on particular world-views that favour
openness, creativity, idea sharing, no hierarchical
command chain and this can often clash with some
• Recognise of power dynamics (between you and the
group, within the group and between the group and
the broader system)
Laura Pereira, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition
Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre
THE TRANSFORMATION LABS APPROACH TO SHIFTS TO SUSTAINABILITY
Westley et al (2015), Social Innovation Lab Guide, Waterloo ON:
Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience
Transformative pathways to sustainability: learning across
disciplines, sectors, regions and cultures