Around the world there are driving forces pointing to the potential of design-driven approaches to social innovation. Forum for Social Innovation have identified a significant interest in the area and also a great need for development of knowledge and skills. It has become clear in our pilot study that there are many initiatives in Sweden that are working with processes similar to design, that not only want to enhance their design skills but also to embed design into the DNA of their organisations.
– We want to sharpen their capacity to innovate with design, so that they later on could start and run their own design labs. We believe this support function is the key part of the lab that we are prototyping right now, says Per-Anders Hillgren, design researcher at K3, Malmö University and Forum for Social Innovation Sweden.
Embedded in reality
In collaboration with other stakeholders, Co-Labs will focus on building such a supportive function. In contrast to the typical notion of a design lab as a studio placed on a specific location, Co-Labs builds on strengthening the capacity for innovation in the everyday contexts and environments where societal challenges exist and are to be tackled. The lab will create a learning environment for design and innovation in relation to trying to tackle these challenges.
– The innovative aspect of the lab is that it embeds the capacity that is developed in the organisations that actually will address the challenges. This model therefore has the opportunity for greater social impact than other more traditional labs, says Louisa Szücs Johansson, project manager at the Forum for Social Innovation.
Co-Labs build on a long experience from close collaboration between the academia and practise in Sweden. There are many formats where knowledge is jointly developed with a clear focus on the challenges that are linked to participants’ everyday challenges.
Builds on long tradition
In the same spirit, participants in a Co-Lab will meet regularly for a longer period of time to work together with the participants’ processes. The workshops will be themed, based on the design practice and different methods of learning together, and will include modules such as civic and user participation, problem framing and prototyping.
The interesting aspect of the research tradition model for a design lab is the fact that it is based on mutual knowledge production between participants and leaders. First, participants learn from each other and based on the new knowledge they are able to develop their practise and working methods. Second, leaders have the possibility to capture insights and experiences that can help to better understand and improve opportunities for innovation.
– We see design labs as an interesting and growing model for new forms of collaboration that can serve as an important arena for developing social innovations. As a national knowledge hub, we want to ensure that the knowledge and capacity that is built will benefit the whole of Sweden, says Hanna Sigsjö director at Forum for Social Innovation Sweden.
Challenges facing society in focus
A Co-Lab can be initiated from one or more activities in different sectors of society. The starting point is taken in a societal challenge where an innovation or collaboration process is started or is to be started by the participants.
– A precondition for a Co-Lab is that the participants have a connection in their daily life to the challenge the lab will focus on. Otherwise, the lab’s composition can vary with representatives from different sectors and professions or consist of more homogeneous groups from the same organisation or department, says Louisa.
Regardless of the group composition Co-Labs are characterised by cross-disciplinary work. Therefor participants must be willing to open up and collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders.
We prefer that both practitioners that are working operationally with developing new solutions, and people with the ability to influence strategies and systems levels participate. Thereby also enabling learning between these levels, explains Per-Anders.
In 2015 we will build, test and evaluate two or three Co-Labs with leaders from the Department of Arts, Culture and Communication (K3) and the Department of Urban Studies at Malmö University.
The first pilot has just started, where we together with Region Skåne is working with five libraries in the region on innovative collaboration. The pilot will focus on developing experiences from various design processes and develop methods for local collaboration and innovation.
Participants in the Co-Lab are libraries from Bjuv, Eslöv, Lindängen, Kävlinge and Lund. The lab will build on the various development or participatory processes that is on going in each municipality.
– A lot more libraries have showed interest in the Co-Lab then we expected. We hope the pilot leaves the participants wanting more and that we can spread the work further, says Kristina Elding who works with library development in Region Skåne.