LAB-IN-A-BOX: A TOOLKIT FOR GOOD STRATEGY
INTRODUCTION- WHAT IS LAB-IN-A-BOX?
The practice of addressing complex challenges is the practice of good strategy. We believe strategy is what you do and not what you say you’re going to do. Lab-In-A-Box is a practice orientated toolkit for taking effective strategic action. It is based on fifteen years of cutting-edge experience. Like any practice, it addresses not simply tools, process and protocols, but also preconditions, capabilities and the architecture needed to create good strategy.
PRODUCTS: WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
There are currently three examples of effective strategy, or key ‘products’ that comprise LIAB. These include: Rapid Action Labs, Preconditions, and Cycles. LIAB provides a snapshot into the what, who, why and how of all three.
RAPID ACTION LAB
Is strategy for quickly achieving coordinated action. It is most useful in situations of fast moving complexity where decisions are urgent and the stakes high.
Preconditions can be seen as the prerequisite phase to putting in place the conditions for strategic action. These include (1) Agreement on the Challenge (2) Putting in place Resources (financial, political and social) commensurate with the scale of the challenge (3) Finding the People required to credibly mount a strategic response and (4) Determining the Strategic Direction of the effort.
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 seen on the ground. 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.
Stacks can be seen as the architecture of a lab, a little like departments in an organisation. In a lab, there are four main stacks; Innovation, Information, Governance and Capacity. LIAB provides an accessible interface in order to understand the design of each stack for all three products.
The innovation stack is the part of a social lab that we most imagine when we think of a lab. It is where “innovation” happens. Innovation can be thought of as “problem solving” or the "what do we need to do, make, and create to solve the challenge?" This stack is about how to facilitate the lab team to do that.
The Information Architecture involves creating and curating how information flows. Information flows in three directions, “up” to investors, donors, sponsors, “across” to team members and participants, and “down” to stakeholders on the ground. Our practice involves the creation of an “open archive” from which multiple artifacts can be produced, including the implementation of an impact evaluation framework.
The governance stack provides guidelines and structure to how decisions are made within a social lab. Who decides what, where and when? This stack can be thought of as two stacks, “governance” and “facilitation”. Whereas in a traditional system this would be thought of as “governance” and “management” or an “executive function.”
A social lab is enabled and/or limited by the level of capability present in the people working in the lab, and the teams and organisations involved in supporting the lab. We break down 3 levels of capability that are required: functional, technical and core capabilities. We also provide role descriptions and guidance for convening each of the teams required to run a lab.
WHO IS IT FOR?
LIAB can be seen as a snapshot of our current social labs practice. Our intention is to codify, capture and share our practice openly as it is developing to support the maturing field of strategic approaches to complex challenges. There is only one way of getting good at a practice and that is to practice. The goal of LIAB is to develop a series of assets that can be deployed by anyone who is trying to operationalise a team in addressing complex challenges to cultivate practices associated with good strategy.