What Is A Lab Cycle?


Social labs operate in cycles. Cycles give structure to the Lab's iterative process. A cycle is the minimum amount of time for which demonstrable value can be realised on the ground. At the start of any lab 36 diverse stakeholders are brought together to form the Lab Team. At the Kick-Off they are divided into 5-6 sub-teams to design and test solutions to the challenges they are working on. 

A lab cycle lasts between 4-6 months depending on the context of the lab. During this period there are several touch points or Studios where all 36 Lab Team members come together to share and iterate their prototypes. This in between period is called a sprint.


Agile Action Cycle- Sprint planning process 

The lab uses an agile project management process. Borrowing from complex software development, agile project management is a flexible methodology suited to operating in situations of complexity and emergence. 

Agile action cycles or ‘sprints’ are used to help manage the lab cycle. At the end of each studio/start of each sprint, tasks are agreed for each team providing a clear focus for the sprint period. At the end of the sprint, the teams review their progress and learning and then starts the next sprint, repeating the process. The methodology is iterative and allows for emergent tasks — ensuring that teams are able to meet the shifting nature of the Challenge they are working on.

example of a single lab cycle

There are approximately four workshops over the course of a cycle where all of the participants/Lab Team Members come together to share their experiences and learning.

The cycle begins with the Kick-Off workshop. During the workshop participants organise into prototyping teams to work together on a solution to the Challenge of their choosing. Team Members develop a deeper understanding of the Challenge, lab practices and protocols, how to work as a team and what is needed during the subsequent sprints and studios. 

Followed by sprint cycle 1

At the first studio, Prototyping Teams come together to present 1.0 of their prototypes. Teams share experiences, learning, resources, address challenges, receive coaching and importantly reflect on and review progress. They decide if they need to pivot, persevere, or stop (radically change) their prototype. The Sprint planning involves how to take their prototype “live”/ version 2.0.

Followed by sprint cycle 2

Following the second sprint, Teams invite external guests to the Studio. They come to hear and provide advice, provide feedback and coaching to the Prototyping Teams on their Version 2.0 live prototypes. Teams plan Sprint 3 and their final tests for the Lab Cycle.

Followed by sprint cycle 3

The final Studio Teams present their “final”/ Version 3.0 prototype results to an even wider network of external guests, stakeholders and end users. Feedback, coaching and decisions on continuation of the prototypes into the next Lab Cycle are made. Teams complete the Lab Cycle and prepare for the next cycle.

Lab Cycle CASE: GROVE3547

Grove 3547 is a next-generation social lab. Launched in 2016 as a partnership between The Chicago Community Trust and Roller Strategies, Grove demonstrates that coalitions of diverse actors can effectively come together to address the many challenges faced by the residents of Chicago. The core challenge that Grove focuses on is:

How can we work together to support young people in Chicago to develop resilient livelihoods?

The Grove Archive is a documentary archive, spanning the time period from April to December 2016. The material in this archive comes from the Preconditions phase and Cycle 1 of the lab.