Social labs typically involve a core “lab team” that commits a significant amount of time to going deep on the process of system sensing, co-design, and prototyping. Benchmarks such as 15 days over four months, or a series of two or three day workshops are proposed as best practices to achieve the initial milestones of lab processes.1
It’s a challenge to gain dedication to a process that is so time-consuming. Within the K-12 education system, this intense time commitment can be particularly daunting. Teachers and principals are key stakeholders in integrating social and emotional wellbeing into schools. However, as frontline staff, it is difficult to secure their extensive time commitment. Pulling teachers out of class, or principals away from their core roles, for many days in a school year is not feasible. Even when funds are available to cover teachers’ time out of class, many educators prefer to maintain continuity and consistency for their students.
All of our pilot districts found the lab-inspired process that WellAhead supported to be complex and time-intensive. As the excitement and interest about the social lab approach grows, we caution other lab practitioners to consider the context of your desired participants, and whether they can actually commit to the ambitious time commitments and timelines proposed. Though social labs can be an effective approach to working collaboratively towards change, they can only be successful in achieving their objectives if stakeholders are able to fully participate. Developing asks that are not feasible can end up stressing relationships, fatiguing champions, and may hinder the long-term progress towards your common goal.
Eisenstadt, M., Hassan, Z. (2015). The Social Labs Fieldbook: A Practical Guide to Solving our Most Complex Challenges.
Westley, F., Laban, S. (2015) Social Innovation Lab Guide.