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What is a Transformation Lab (T-Lab)?

A short overview of T-labs, which aim to provoke socio-ecological change by using a variety of social learning approaches with groups of people in a highly-designed and facilitated process.

For more information, see the PATHWAYS Network project:

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What is a Transformation Lab (T-Lab)?

  1. 1. What is a Transformation Lab (T-lab) and how does it work? ‘Transformative pathways to sustainability: learning across disciplines, contexts and cultures” Based on the discussions at the Buenos Aires Inception Meeting of the Pathways Network, April 2016.
  2. 2. “Transformation” aspects • 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, partnerships • Is there a window of opportunity? • T-Labs have a social-ecological component
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. When to convene a lab process • Problem identified as complex • There is a ‘convenor’ - significant ownership over the problem and strong motivation • 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
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. Process of designing a T-lab • Who? • 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
  8. 8. Impact • What methods and indicators will we use for measurement? • 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
  9. 9. What makes a T-lab different? T-Labs include: • 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)
  10. 10. Challenges • Different contexts - especially in the global South • You must manage expectations • Be deeply reflexive of ethics of intervention in a contested space • 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 cultural contexts • Recognise of power dynamics (between you and the group, within the group and between the group and the broader system)
  11. 11. Laura Pereira, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre Sources 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
  12. 12. Transformative pathways to sustainability: learning across disciplines, sectors, regions and cultures