The Vision for an Innovation Lab in Leeds – What If….?


The city is facing real challenges.  Increasing demands on services and reduced budgets for their delivery.  Making the transition to a low carbon, sustainable economy.  Creating meaningful work in a modern economy.  Delivering the possibility of healthy and fulfilling lives for all.  Facilitating communities where people choose to stay and develop.

Such profound challenges bring the possibility of a step change in service design and delivery.

Better integration between service providers, increased use of volunteers, social enterprise and more efficient use of the private sector.  Increased flexibility to respond to the emerging needs, aspirations and goals of individuals and communities.  To shift the agenda from the amelioration of symptoms to the facilitation of hope and opportunity.  Leveraging the potential of new technologies and emerging ideas of the Big Society.  Encouraging more people to engage in ‘good work’ and be active citizens rather than passive consumers of public services.

Having initially floated the idea of an innovation lab and got some very warm interest I was asked to put some more flesh on the bones of the idea.  Please help in this process by adding your thoughts and ideas.

And if you might be interested in sponsoring such a process then please get in touch.

But How Do We Get There?

It is clear that service reviews in traditional departmental and sectoral silos are unlikely to deliver more efficient and integrated services.  Nor is a mindset that encourages us to ‘hold what we have’ – to advocate for our narrow self interest and the maintenance of the status quo.  Public, private and third sector need to collaborate on service design and delivery rather than to advocate for their own self interest.

We need to create a space for thinking and imagining where the realists and pragmatists can take a back seat while the idealists and the imagineers can develop ideas about how things might be.  To build a consensus and commitment to move towards a very different but eminently possible future.

Such a space can be created through an Innovation Lab.

What is an Innovation Lab?

An innovation lab is a process – not a place.  It usually culminates in an intense workshop to allow key thinkers, influencers, technologists and service users to come together to work intensely and constructively on developing a vision for how things could be;  To ‘fish for ideas’ that might lead us forward to radically lower cost but higher value service delivery; To shape the agenda to enable quick wins but also to provide a vision to inform longer term development.

In an Innovation Lab nothing is sacrosanct, everything is possible.  It is a chance to get beyond ‘the paltry limits of conventional wisdom’ to explore the art and science of the possible.  And to develop a pathway for getting there.

Innovation Labs are led by skilled and experienced facilitators – who are able to recognise and challenge pragmatism and defensiveness while encouraging idealism and imagination.  They usually include keynotes and other interventions to encourage forward thinking and the art of the possible as well as whole and small group work to develop and hone important ideas.  Innovation Labs shape and are shaped by those who take part and their ideas.

Innovation Labs can take a multitude of formats.  There maybe several events and processes throughout the Lab all of which are designed to develop:

  • A mindset that seeks radical innovation by drawing in diverse pools of talent and knowhow
  • Skills in the processes of innovation, scenario development, vision building, collaboration and joint venturing
  • Understanding and awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing the city and the talent and resources available to tackle them
  • Relationships across traditional boundaries to allow new partnerships and programmes to emerge
  • Commitment to practical action – developing a big vision that can be pursued through little steps

Who Would Be Involved?

Participation in the Innovation Lab would need to be a carefully considered.  It would need to include individuals with the influence and power to lead real change.  But also people with practical hands-on experience of service delivery.

It would need to include:

  • Technologists and service design experts
  • Private, public and third sectors stakeholders
  • Housing, health, education, policing, welfare, politicians, investors, philanthropists, community development practitioners, architects and planners, transformational project managers, futurists, environmentalists and cultural stakeholders and, of course, residents.

What Could Be Achieved?

  • A new shared understanding of the challenges of service design and delivery and the need for cross sectoral collaboration
  • The identification of ‘big ideas’ and opportunities that hold the key to radically more effective and efficient services
  • The identification of work streams that seem to hold the greatest potential for progress and the commitment to contribute to them.
  • Potential structural and systemic changes that might support progress.
  • Shifts in mindsets from defensive to innovative
  • The development of scenarios that transcend departmental and budgetary silos
  • Priorities and Tasks for action.

Challenges and Risks

  • Getting the right people engaged in a process of focussed and intense work with real commitment
  • Finding the right places and designing the right processes
  • Defensiveness, self-preservation and an excess of realism
  • Lack of follow through – a talking shop…

Maximising the chances of follow through and implementation

The challenges and risks can be mitigated through effective planning and preparation.  Getting the processes for setting-up, delivery and follow through effective and engaging.

It will require significant commitment and energy from participants to achieve radical outcomes.  The will to succeed must be there and the courage to step out of comfort zones.

Next Steps

To identify sponsors who would be willing to support the Innovation Lab concept and its development

Establish a design team to develop and cost the Innovation Lab concept and test its feasibility with key stakeholders and potential funders.