What is a social lab?

When you hear about traditional laboratories you might think about natural sciences in which the scientist conducts lab tests. In these laboratories the answers to questions are typically found within the actual laboratory and not outside. Social labs, however, are experimental in their nature. It is part of a paradigm that understands the world through experimentation in the outside world.

Mutual learning through collaborations

The social labs create spaces for mutual learning through interactive processes involving an eclectic group of stakeholders that all represent a certain aspect of society. Social labs are not tools in themselves, but there are various tools within them that can be used to solve the most pressing global problems through multidisciplinary collaborations.

Responsible research and innovation through experimentation

Social labs create spaces for knowledge- and idea exchanges, where the stakeholders get new ideas to conduct responsible research and innovation through experimentation. When dealing with complex challenges it is vital to use strategies that can solve these issues and social labs create a space where interactive processes can flourish. The social labs are therefore not necessarily a fixed place like the traditional laboratory is; it is rather a space that can be present in various physical places. The importance is that various stakeholders are present and that they are willing to try out new initiatives.

Failure as part of the innovation process

At the lab the focus point is to find new ways of doing things, and it is a premise of the lab that in order to find such a breakthrough, you will fail along the way. It is part of the nature of social labs that you need to identify what does not work in order to find out what works. You therefore need to experiment and learn from your failures, as failure is believed to be part of innovation.

Include diverse voices

For our social labs to run as planned, we are inviting diverse stakeholders from society to partake in this experimentation phase. Social labs thus create a base for new ways of doing research and innovation. It is science with and for society, as civil society is an active part of these social labs as well as actors from research, industry and the public sector. This ideally leads to more responsible research and innovation to be conducted as we need good cross-sectoral cooperation between different levels of research and innovation processes. This means that social labs have a holistic approach, as they are capturing many different voices in the process. This is important, as we want to solve the problems faced globally by including as many aspects of society as possible to avoid overlooking blind spots.

If you want to read more about social labs and get a practical guide to these, please download and read The Social Labs Fieldbook for free.