Social labs develop ideas for challenges

As the problems addressed by nonprofits become more complex or more persistent, solutions need to be more creative and adaptive.

In his book “The Social Labs Revolution,” Zaid Hassan promotes the idea of the social lab, which he describes as a strategic approach toward addressing complex social challenges. The strategy is simple: bring together a diverse, committed team and take an experimental, prototyping-based approach to addressing challenges systemically, at the root-cause level.

Hassan offers seven how-to steps for starting a social lab.

  • Clarify intention. Hassan calls intention the high-octane jet fuel required for addressing complex social challenges.
  • Broadcast an invitation. A good invitation is mythic, a call to adventure.
  • Work your networks. Once a clear and compelling invitation has been formulated, get it out.
  • Recruit willing people. Start with a small group of like-minded organizations or individuals with some convening power.
  • Set direction. Complex social challenges are too complicated for grand strategies. * What are required instead are strategic direction and the creation of space.
  • Design in stacks. Design stacks (innovation/problem solving, information and learning, capacity building, governance) only when they are needed. Don’t spend years planning the perfect lab on paper.
  • Find cadence. This refers to a pace that is sustainable.  The issues are so difficult that dealing with them can lead to burnout. Make haste, slowly.