Labcraft Launch SF Bay Area

Labcraft Book Launch – An evening on social innovation labs!

Dec 03rd 2014

Co-organized by Impact Hub Oakland


On a stormy December evening we welcomed around 65 Bay Area social innovators, educators, activists, researchers, change facilitators, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs for an evening introduction into the world of social innovation labs and to celebrate the launch of Labcraft – our co-created book.

Some of the questions we explored in the book and this evening were: What are social innovation labs? And how are they making a difference? What works and what not? And how can we as lab practitioners together learn and strengthen our practices?

On the same evening Occupy Oakland had gathered several hundred people to march against police violence and while we were preparing the space for the event, they peacefully walked past the Hub’s big window front on Broadway.

We had invited representatives of six diverse social labs from the Bay Area to share their story. Our intention was to create a participatory evening for exchange and learning about social labs for people interested in building the future using a powerful collective process called Collective Story Harvest. (To learn more about this and other collaborative innovation processes see Natural Innovation’s toolkit)

“Bringing the community of labs together to learn from one another is one of the things we are most passionate about at Natural Innovation.”

When asked, about one in four participants self-identified as people working on social labs.

DSC07980Lisa Chacon, co-founder of the Impact Hub Oakland opened the evening and shared her excitement about Labcraft and the intention to support the creation of a platform for learning about social labs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We invited everyone to actively participate in the real time content creation tonight, in telling and listening to stories in
new ways and asked everyone to silently reflect: “What is your intention for being here tonight?”

DSC08059We started the evening with an introduction into Natural Innovation’s work with social innovation labs over the past seven years. Over time we have observed that social labs create three specific types of space. They create:

  1. a relational space, where innovators and others can build high trust relationships;
  2. an imaginary space where the status quo can be questioned and different futures can be imagined together;
  3. and a generative space, where initiatives that work towards these new futures can be incubated/accelerated.

Social Labs create these spaces through a variety of strategies. Sometimes a lab will try to cover all of them, or focus on one of them and partner with other organizations who focus on others:

Hivos Presentation

The six speakers gave a brief introduction about their labs and participants chose which lab story they wanted to listen to and form small groups.

  • Joseph McIntyre, Ag Innovations Network, Sebastopol
  • Danny Kennedy, Sfuncube, Oakland
  • Gino Pastori-Ng, Youth Seed/ Youth Impact Hub, Oakland
  • Pamela Chaloult, BALLE, Oakland
  • Garrett Jacobs, Code for America, San Francisco
  • Hendrik Tiesinga, The Finance Innovation Lab, London

(From left to right)

DSC08108DSC08087 DSC08104DSC08088 DSC08097  DSC08115

Each participant was asked to actively listen to a lab story and choose a question or ‘harvest thread’ to focus their listening on. Through our work with and research on social labs we found that exploring the following questions are useful to understand the way labs work, how and why they are different from conventional social change approaches:

  • What are the practices and activities this social lab has developed or used?
  • What are key moments or phases of transformation? What has changed?
  • What have they learned about collaborating with diverse stakeholders?
  • What have they learned about scaling up innovations?
  • How are they working with power?
  • What impact are they making (both tangible/intangible)?


After the storytelling participants reformed their groups, and started working with people who had previously listened with the same story angle to surface cross-cutting patterns and collective insights.

Each sub-group presented the main patterns they saw across labs whose stories they’d heard:


Practices & activities

  • Selection of the ‘right people’ – diverse stakeholders
  • Finding out who is our ecosystem: who do we bring together?
  • Systems mapping: what is really happening, what are the trends, what are the power structures, dynamics?
  • Personal and professional engagement are invited



  • Evolution / Prototype and iterate: failing and trying again, quickly learning from what’s working and what not
  • Seeing the world from all eyes (taking different perspectives)
  • Creating ownership among the team and main stakeholders, be on the same page
  • Creation of an environment for success: Space, platform, environment of both safety & challenge


Collaborating with diverse stakeholders

  • Who are the people, who should be here, diversity
  • Building an atmosphere of safety & trust
  • Is engaging diverse people an intentional process (methodology), or does it happen naturally?


Learning about scaling up innovation

  • Duration is important, labs seem to have lots of turnover of people
  • It’s not only about product, more about creating culture
  • Establish own territory and create accountability
  • Allow organic patterns to emerge
  • Mentorship, education, partnerships are critical to scaling
  • Fail early & fail often


Working with power

  • Balance between getting people in power involved and making sure all voices are included
  • Working with people that are already doing the work, in power, building on that, where there is energy
  • The power to change emerges from social capital between people



  • Iteration is a result of the work, leading to more tangible impact
  • Capturing anecdotal impact is also important
  • New projects and initiatives as a result of new connections – new networks of innovators
  • Bridge building of traditional institutions and creative innovation spaces
  • Through the lab: seeing the bigger picture of a topic and what’s missing / where to focus action
  • Your assumptions, if iterated upon, will lead you to unexpected places


One of the patterns the story-tellers discovered amongst each other was how social labs incubate and support each other, with the Sfuncube for example providing workspace in the early days of the Impact Hub Oakland team


And while the groups were working on finding patterns and illuminating the craft of cultivating social innovation through labs, the street was filling again with protesters. They were banging on the windows and shouting impatient invitations for us to ‘stop sitting around’ and to join their march. One woman came knocking at our door demanding attention. We went to talk to her. She shouted: “Do you know what we are protesting against??? You should be out here, not in there!” We returned: “Yes we know what you are doing and we support you!” We felt both sympathy for the cause but disagreed with the value judgment that the work ‘out there’ was more important than the work ‘in here’. We countered that while they were doing the important work to stop injustice, we were working on creating the alternative futures. And each of us went our way.

DSC08129 DSC08176

The incident reminded us of the importance of building bridges between different social actors and create spaces where people with different strategies can meet, learn to see, hear and respect each other in their different approaches to change.


We are very inspired by the growing interest in social innovation labs and want to invite you to join us for a Labcraft Deep Dive, March 7 & 8, 2015 at the Impact Hub Oakland. More info here


Written by Simone Poutnik, with support from Nina Nisar and Hendrik Tiesinga, Partners of Natural Innovation
Thanks to Kate Seely and Dana Pearlman for harvesting. Event photos here, thanks to Mahmood Nisar.
And special thanks to Beatrice Benne and Lisa Chacon for co-organizing the event with us. 


Simone PoutnikLabcraft Launch SF Bay Area