The Citizen Innovation Laboratories (LABIC) are an efficient methodology to generate innovative solutions between citizens and institutions for the common good. These solutions focus on the most pressing issues of the 2030 agenda, they are replicable, scalable and generate concrete benefits for affected communities. They are an innovation in the field of cooperation in development because they empower the citizens of Latin-American and European countries and make them the main protagonist of cooperation.
A Citizen Innovation Lab (LABIC) is a method to experiment, collaborate and accelerate innovative projects that emerge from citizens and have the potential to generate useful solutions to social, cultural, environmental and economic challenges. They are a platform for connecting citizens and public institutions with the aim of generating solutions focused on the most pressing issues of the 2030 agenda. LABICs are a proven and systematised instrument that allows for the aggregation of collective intelligence and offers citizens possibilities to generate agile changes from their own contexts, which would otherwise be difficult to develop. This means that instead of solutions being created by a few "experts" in institutions, LABICs help institutions to open up and expand their boundaries by integrating citizens as the creators of innovative, useful, replicable, affordable and scalable responses.
The Citizen Innovation Project of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB) has developed 9 of these laboratories in different countries and cities, co-organised with national, sub-national and/or local public institutions in several Ibero-American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Dominican Republic). The LABIC method has evolved year after year, generating innovations in its own format and developing the quality of adapting to local, national and international formats. Moreover, they have served as a reference and inspiration for the creation of more than 20 laboratories in countries in the Latin American region, Portugal and Spain. In these 9 laboratories, 1000 citizens from 28 countries have participated, 83 replicable prototypes have been generated, 150 institutions (public, private and civil society) have been involved in the organisation and 120 collectives and communities have worked and received the benefits of the solutions created.
LABICs are a method in which 100 citizens selected through an open call meet and form teams to develop projects for the common good (also selected through an open call). LABICs consist of two phases.
- Ideation and prototyping. This phase is divided into two stages:
- Ideation Laboratory: a 5-day online activity where teams improve the proposal and design a production plan.
- Prototyping Laboratory: a 10-day face-to-face activity where people work intensively and immersively on the prototyping of solutions. This work is not only carried out within the laboratory space, but also with the beneficiary communities that will later adopt the innovation. This phase has a specialised mentoring team that accompanies the projects throughout the process with the working groups and culminates with a functional prototype presented publicly and transmitted via streaming to all of Ibero-America.
- Maturing. This phase is an important innovation in the ecosystem of the laboratories (introduced in 2019), as it usually culminates in the production of the prototype. But LABICs aim to bring the prototypes to an advanced state of maturity and ideally ready to scale. This process usually lasts between six and ten months, giving continuity to the solution until a product roadmap is achieved, with a clear direction and vision of its priorities for long-term progress. This is done by providing the project teams with a seed capital and a mentoring programme where they are proposed a series of missions, i.e. a set of coordinated actions through which the participants must find a relevant and sustainable solution.
From 2018 onwards, the LABICs have focused their solutions on contributing to the 2030 Agenda, with very specific contributions that generate benefits for specific communities. For example, they have worked on solutions aimed at reducing microplastics in the oceans, low-cost prostheses for people with motor disabilities, reduction of microplastics in the oceans, and, for people with motor disabilities, reduction of dengue, zika and chikungunya; reduction of digital violence against women, digitisation of indigenous languages to prevent their disappearance, new platforms for citizen participation to strengthen public institutions, etc.
LABICs are consolidating themselves as one of the most disruptive innovations in the field of development cooperation, and a substantial contribution to public innovation in Ibero-America. The next challenge that LABICs are taking on focuses on transferring learning, methods and innovation tools extracted from the laboratories within the public administration of Ibero-American countries.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Four important factors of LABICs can be identified as an innovation in development cooperation:
- Leading citizens: they are an innovation because they introduce citizens as the main creator of scalable solutions.
- Bridge between institutions and citizens: they form an ecosystem where citizens unite with national, subnational and/or local institutions, international organizations and organizations from other sectors with the aim of generating benefits for the common good.
- Scaling: they add a program for maturing and scaling the prototyped solutions, something unusual in citizen laboratories that are generally limited to prototyping.
- Cross-border solutions: they incorporate collaboration between people and institutions from different countries, generating replicable solutions in different contexts
Collaborations & Partnerships
- 1000 citizens from 28 countries
- AECID, INTPA/EU, AMEXCID
- 120 civil society communities
- Presidencies of Mexico, Costa Rica and Brazil, Min. of Culture (Brazil and Colombia), High Council for Post-Conflict (Colombia), Min. of State Modernisation (Argentina), Min. of the Presidency (Dominican Republic), subnational governments in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, Mayors of Cartagena and Santo Domingo, Municipality of Xalapa.
- Others: Ford Foundation, Nansen Center For Peace and Dialogue, Grupo social ONCE
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
- National, subnational and local governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic that participated in the innovation and incorporated innovative practices into their interior.
- Beneficiary populations that received the solutions from the laboratories: people with disabilities, Afro-descendants, indigenous communities, victims of gender violence, rural communities affected by climate change, victims of the armed conflict, etc.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The main results are:
- 1000 participating citizens from 28 countries.
- 83 innovative prototypes generated.
- 150 associated institutions.
- 120 impacted groups and communities For the purposes of evaluating the projects generated in the LABICs, a matrix is being used to quantify the level of maturity of the projects. This is the product of a qualitative systematization for the evaluation carried out in the LABICs of Costa Rica (2019) and Mexico (2021), which has allowed the development of a framework for evaluating the progress of the projects in terms of their maturity and scale potential. This framework is described in detail in a text to be published in 2022: Citizen solutions that work: the LABIC method.
In the future, it is expected to increase the annual number of laboratories, while at the same time having an impact on Ibero-American public institutions through the transfer of learning, methods and innovation tools extracted from the laboratories.
Challenges and Failures
The LABICs are in constant iteration and adaptation, which is why they seek to innovate in each edition, integrating learning from previous ones, as well as from external experiences.
One of the main challenges that LABIC has encountered has been to work with communities in their territories, and not only with the laboratory participants. This meant developing a collaborative work strategy with local communities and appropriation of the method to co-produce solutions. Currently, LABIC has managed to work with 120 communities.
Another challenge is communication. Spaces for experimentation and innovation are not used to communicating in a clear and direct way, something that we verify in the public presentation of the results at the end of each LABIC. For this reason, we have developed a training program in communication and public presentations of innovative projects that has substantially improved this challenge.
Conditions for Success
The main conditions of success for innovations such as LABICs can be summarised as follows:
- Institutions open to experimentation, citizen participation and collaboration.
- The formation of teams of partner institutions in the LABIC system itself facilitates its implementation.
- The motivation of citizens to devote their time and knowledge to collaboration that generates solutions for the common good.
- The production of solutions under free licences allows for replicability and adaptation of the projects to different contexts, widening the radius of the beneficiaries. In addition, the solutions created aim to be economically affordable.
- Clear and direct communication facilitates the understanding of innovative processes such as laboratories, or the prototypes produced in them.
- The careful articulation and management of a broad community made up of citizens and institutions that pool their capacities to make the laboratories possible.
The LABICs are the inspiration for the creation of 24 citizen and government laboratories in Ibero-America, which make up the Ibero-American Network of Labs articulated by SEGIB. They have also been the model for the development of laboratories with the same or similar characteristics in governments or institutions, such as those carried out by: the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the Mayor's Office of Bogotá, laboratories promoted in several provinces of Argentina (Neuquén, Salta, Santa Fe), labs of Mañana in Uruguay, labs of the Instituto procomún in Brazil, Experimenta Distrito at Medialab-Prado in Spain, etc.
The LABIC experience must continue to be replicated and adapted. For this reason, during October 2022, the LABIC method will be published with an open licence in Spanish, Portuguese and English with the aim of promoting these innovative actions in different countries, whether in national, subnational or local governments, civil society organisations or development cooperation agencies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the conversion of usually face-to-face activities into a virtual format, which has saved funds, while expanding opportunities for participation, creativity, and enriching experiences for innovation processes. As an example of this, we have created prior training activities for the people participating in the laboratories that position them better for the development of their prototypes (courses on communication, design of sustainable business models and social impact, how to link with different communities and cultures , among others). In order to make this method more economically accessible, without compromising the quality of the productions, we have developed LABIX: local citizen innovation laboratories, which have already been developed in Cartagena de Indias (2021) and Santo Domingo (2022).