The Citizen Innovation Labs (Laboratorios de Innovación Ciudadana - LABIC) are a methodology to generate innovative solutions between citizens and institutions for the common good. They utilise 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. These solutions focus on the most pressing issues of the 2030 agenda and they are replicable, and scalable. They are an innovation in Development Cooperation because they introduce the citizens of Latin American and European countries as the main protagonist of cooperation.
The Citizen Innovation Labs (LABIC) 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 (Secretaría General Iberoamericana - 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 ability to adapt to local, national and international formats. Moreover, they have served as a reference and inspiration for the creation of more than 20 laboratories in Latin American countries, 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, projects that have also selected through an open call.
LABICs consist of two phases. 1) Ideation and prototyping. This phase is divided into two moments: - IDEATION LABORATORY: a 5-day online activity where teams improve the proposal and design a production plan. - PROTOTYPING LAB: 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 subsequently 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 broadcast via streaming throughout Ibero-America. 2) 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 to a moment where they are 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 a 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. By way of example, they have worked on solutions aimed at reducing microplastics in oceans, low-cost prostheses for people with motor disabilities, reducing dengue, zika and chikungunya, reducing digital violence against women, digitising indigenous languages to prevent their disappearance, new platforms for citizen participation to strengthen public institutions, etc. LABICs are consolidating themselves as 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 is focused on transferring learning, methods and innovation tools extracted from the laboratories to the public administration of the Ibero-American countries.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
LABICs can be identified as an innovation in development cooperation in four important ways: 1. Citizen protagonist: they are an innovation because they introduce citizens as the main creators of scalable solutions. 2. Bridge between institutions and citizens: they form an ecosystem where citizens join national, subnational and/or local institutions, international agencies and organisations from other sectors with the aim of generating benefits for the common good. 3. Cross-border solutions: incorporate collaboration between people and institutions from different countries, generating solutions that can be replicated in different contexts. 4. Scaling: they add a maturity and scaling programme for prototyped solutions, which is unusual in citizen labs that are generally limited to prototyping.
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), Alta Consejería Posconflicto (Colombia), Min. de Modernización del Estado (Argentina), Min. de la Presidencia (R. Dominicana), subnational governments in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, Mayors of Cartagena and Santo Domingo, Xalapa City Council
- Others: Ford Foundation, Nansen Center For Peace and Dialogue, Grupo social ONCE
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
National, sub-national and local governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic participated in the innovation and incorporated innovative practices within them. Beneficiary populations that received solutions from the labs include: people with disabilities, Afro-descendants, indigenous communities, victims of gender-based violence, rural communities affected by climate change, victims of armed conflict, among others.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The main results are:
- 1000 participating citizens from 28 countries
- 83 innovative prototypes generated
- 150 partner institutions
- 120 collectives and communities impacted
In order to evaluate the projects generated in the LABICs, we are working on a matrix that allows us to quantify the level of maturity of the projects. This is the result of a qualitative systematisation 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 potential for scale. This framework is described in detail in a text: "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
LABICs are constantly iterating and adapting, so they seek to innovate in each edition by integrating learnings from previous ones, as well as from external experiences. One of the main challenges LABIC has faced has been to work with communities in their territories, and not only with the participants of the laboratory. This meant developing a strategy of collaborative work with local communities and appropriation of the method to co-produce the solutions. Currently, LABIC has managed to work with 120 communities. Another challenge is communication. Experimentation and innovation spaces are not used to communicating in a clear and direct way, which we have seen in the public presentation of the results at the end of each LABIC. For this reason, we have developed a training programme 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 method 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 licenses allows for replicability and adaptation of the projects to different contexts, expanding the radius of 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 combine 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 various provinces of Argentina (Neuquén, Salta, Santa Fe), labs of Mañana in Uruguay, labs of the Instituto procomún in Brazil, Experimenta Distrito in Medialab-Prado in Spain, etc. The LABIC experience must continue to be replicated and adapted, which is why among the aims of the team was for the LABIC method to be published with an open licence in Spanish, Portuguese and English with the aim of promoting these innovative actions in various countries, both in national, subnational or local governments, as well as in civil society organisations and development cooperation agencies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made it necessary to convert activities that are usually face-to-face into a virtual format, which has saved funds, while at the same time increasing opportunities for participation, creativity and enriching experiences for innovation processes. As an example of this, we have created pre-training activities for lab participants that better position them for the development of their prototypes (courses on communication, design of sustainable business models and social impact, how to engage 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 labs, which have already been developed in Cartagena de Indias (2021) and Santo Domingo (2022).
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
10 August 2023