The lab brings citizens and stakeholders together in a structured design process to form a common realisation of present challenges and pathways to the future. The stakeholders engaged are all identified and relevant to the target group. They are part of a national ecosystem from user, practitioner to policymakers locally, regionally and nationally. The design methods used in the lab are visualizations of processes, gap analysis and aesthetic disruption to enable needed cultural transformation.
There is a need for more cross-sectoral collaboration, user-centredness and cultural awareness for transformational change. In Sweden we have tried to build such a platform on which to come together to create innovations on our most critical social challenges. We started out in 2016, commissioned by the Department of Social Affairs and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) to build a policy lab with and about unaccompanied minors.
Since 2018 we are being funded by the Swedish Inheritance fund, working on the wider scope of newly arrived minors. Two of our participants in the first lab have commissioned us with lab processes 2018-2019. The agency for education Skolverket have asked us to co-design a holistic approach to family-school collaboration in one of their local contexts and the UNHCR Nordic region have asked us to co-design a more holistic approach to the initial reception of refugee children. One of the innovations that we have held on to from our first lab, born out of the insight that information was a challenge for the unaccompanied minors themselves and the professionals working with them on a daily basis as well.
The agency for innovation has funded us to prototype an app for newly arrived children serving to collect data from the many hundreds of contacts they have in the first year. The app is intended to facilitate storing information and making the process smoother. The prototype is called Meet Sweden, and has since it started to be tested proven to be important to develop further. We are now working on facilitating the information exchange between different stakeholders involved in the process through new digital technique.
The lab process has been designed as a first step of creating insights and a second step bring them into testable prototypes in a joint structure between many stakeholders. The policy lab dimension intends at creating agency amongst the participants to aid transformation to happen but also highlight hindrances to transformation due to legal or cultural mindsets. When a lab process such as the lab with UNHCR comes to an end, a hearing is held where the findings make up a basis for a joint plan forward. This stage is new and will be beneficial for the local/national level to seek advice from the design team on how the procurement and implementation best will be designed. This is also thought to help advance and make sure the ideas are indeed turned into reality. We believe this to be a crucial step that is often overlooked in innovation processes and much needed.
It is only when we, as SALAR states, brings a new, needed idea into action that it actually becomes an innovation. From a citizen or stakeholder perspective participating in our lab processes this is just as crucial. It is only when innovations are implemented that their agency and empowered selves are manifested. We believe this to be a way for democracy to be vitalised. For scale we arrange labs in many different local or regional contexts to then aggregate insights on a specific theme or target group such as newly arrived minors on a national level. The lab process derived from many local and regional contexts dealing with the same target group is important to create credibility for the insights and also create environments where there will be a will to maybe test new national policy once it has been produced. The aggregated data on what national hindrances there are to provide innovative and collaborative services will serve new policy being produced well. Our current idea is to have three such local/regional lab contexts before moving it up to a national level as insights for policymakers there to take action. The innovations locally/regionally are important since they are hands on and quick manifestations of change and they will be scaled through conferences, webinars, and our own webpage and hopefully the webpages of our participants. The policy hindrances are summarized to the right national government branch for them to take future action on.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
How do we support civil servants in the transformation from an old paradigm to a new? Can a lab environment such as Förnyelselabbet serve as a bootcamp for future skills, such as a more user-centric, holistic, collaborative and therefore more innovative practice? Insights into what hinders civil servants today and what they believe would release even more potential in their work are collected. When aggregated in different labs across the country, these insights are assembled and presented to the national policy level. We therefore provide momentum for change locally, regionally and nationally. The lab contexts learn about the challenge and the culture that upholds it and test different hypothesis of change. Most problems will be solved locally, but there will be systemic hindrances that need addressed on a national policy level. When new policies are suggested, the same lab environments serve as test arenas for these new policies-thus short-circuiting the policy process.
What is the current status of your innovation?
By prototyping alternative futures, social transformations shared by many stakeholders and their users are made possible. We believe there is a an urgent need for the public sector to open up to other stakeholders, empowering their inhabitants and learning to prototype. We are now in the midst of forming methods for aesthetic interventions evaluation methods. Being a partner to Salar, we have access to the database of all local municipalities and regions and can thereby share good ideas and work practices. The lab is also forming partnerships with state agencies and the government to make it accessible for other societal challenges requiring investigation. Our hypothesis is that middle ground between the state and local legislature is needed, an explorative design practice such as ours can also serve to gain insights and better foundations for policymaking, well in advance of either procurement, national investigations or innovation funds being made available.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The lab was initially launched by SVID-the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation. The lab is made up by government officials throughout the system, locally, regionally and nationally. The target group at stake in the complex societal challenge is also engaged as well as citizens and social entrepreneurs who want to take part in the making of a brighter future. By allowing the innovation process to be build on data from users and practitioners we lessen the risk of innovations not creating value.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Insights about the situation and everyday life of the target group has been of great value to the stakeholders involved in developing a shared understanding of their needs and challenges.The opportunity to have a common process,where the stakeholders can relate to their different roles and missions, is useful to the organizations. A large group of newly arrived minors have been engaged. Stakeholders express that they have been inspired and the unaccompanied minors strengthened by the lab process.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Approx. 15 innovations have arisen out of the lab processes as well as many new relationships and better understanding of each other as partners in tackling complex challenges. While testing the app Meet Sweden with one municipality, Sollentuna, the results are both verification that the idea adds value to the lives of unaccompanied minors but also when testing a deepened understanding from practitioners that the real problem is them not exchanging information.
The lab has been run as a series of prototypes, first a lab on the challenge of unaccompanied minors for the department of social affairs and Salar. A second lab was set up on same subject with UNHCR. The national board of education also has a lab testing better ways to collaborate between school and families. These prototypes form basis into what kind of lab design is needed in a Swedish context and formed basis of our renewed lab structure now being launched with the National inheritance fund.
Challenges and Failures
In the initial phase of the innovation process different stakeholders found it hard to understand complex legal and regulatory language and processes involved in the situation as a whole. Some stakeholders had an understanding of “their part” of the context. Thus, a big need was identified for mapping out different legal and regulatory issues. A test was carried out with an advisory board of legal officers representing stakeholders. The civil servants need more space to innovate and collaborate, and governing principles are needed to aid this shift. There is also a need to combine the societal challenges from the national level to the local, something that Sweden has no history of doing and which we now launch. While exploring methods most suitable for the lab, aesthetic disruptions arose impacting the outcome in a positive way. Complexity is difficult to handle. Art, design and aesthetics can make it easier to envisage, reflect upon and more importantly act upon collaboratively.
Conditions for Success
An important aspect of a co-creative process across sectors is to invite stakeholders to contribute to the process on equal footing. For instance, we noted that civil society organisations were explicit about the added value of them being invited to contribute with their competence and perspectives on equal footing with different public sector organization. A key success factor of the Lab process regarding unaccompanied minors is the assignment from the Swedish Government. For this type of cross-sectoral co-creation lab to be successful, clear legitimacy and political will to renew the way the public sector operates is key. From the different stakeholders such as municipalities, county councils and government agencies, we also see that legitimacy and buy in from top level managers is crucial. Currently in Sweden, 290 municipalities are struggling to address the situation of e.g unaccompanied minors in a cost-effective and impactful way. We believe our lab to be a vessel for this.
By involving stakeholders from different sectors and from different levels in the public sector in a co-creative process with the target group, we believe the methods and ideas will be relevant to a larger number of organisations. For instance, the first lab involved seven municipalities of different sizes and from different parts of Sweden. The situation in the 290 municipalities regarding e.g unaccompanied minors is quite similar to the seven participating. Thereby, competencies, methods, tools, and ideas that are able to make positive impact in the seven participating municipalities should have a high potential for being spread and scaled up. In our new labs digital platforms within Salar are being explored to further help communicate insights, ideas and tested results. We use our own website to showcase our different assignments to inspire others and to help stakeholders apply them to their own challenges.
Förnyelselabbet's idea is to connect stakeholders with their users and each other and through design methods enable them to make better policies. Key in this is the structured process where the now and the future are being explored and developed by aesthetic interventions. According to design research, aesthetic interventions are identified as key for transformations in social systems. The lab is meant to be a safe zone for exploring away from the buzz of everyday life.
It is also meant to be a supportive function for cross-sectoral collaborations in social change. When we care about and are curious about our users' views, dreams and resources as well as our collaborators and planet-we believe a resilient society can be achieved. The public sector has a tendency to develop from the perspective of its own business and assumptions instead of user needs . You are then left with uncertainty about where innovation is required and what consequences that follow. The result is complex welfare systems that provide services without a holistic perspective on the users' entire reality, we risk developing unfounded services and, moreover lack of trust from people. By combining relevant actors, we explore behaviors that can underpin an experienced problem. With our design practice, we want to contribute to a shift in working methods in the public sector, from assumptions to needs assessment and testing of ideas. In this way we want to contribute to new ways of attacking root causes for social challenges and problems.Today, we develop two successive offers; In Activation Lab, the public sector receives needs and insight platforms with integrated development areas. Step two is ActorNetwork Lab, where we prototype potential prospects for strategic decision making. When needs assessment and future prototypes have clarified which relationships and solutions need to be developed, we can assist in linking social companies to produce the solutions in partnership with the public sector.
We had an article published about our work at Serv Des in Milano this year. Please read here; http://www.servdes.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/50.pdf