We interrogate the emergent new landscape of "labs" across diverse social and political settings, incl. design labs, change labs, policy labs, and living labs. We explore the epistemic, empirical and political terrain in which these labs are mobilized, and associated promises and governance issues.
Recently, the notion of "laboratories" has gained wider prominence far beyond the traditional confines of S&T. From design labs, change labs, urban labs, and living labs; to policy labs, social labs, and social innovation labs; all the way to do-tanks, test-beds, and hives - lab-like approaches are being proposed and deployed across diverse social and political settings. These labs promise to tackle social problems more inclusively, playfully, innovatively, and effectively, while at the same time invoking elements of scientific rigor and controlled experimentation. Moreover, they frequently emphasize the possibility to contain and test new ideas, objects, or living arrangements in safe spaces before releasing them onto society at large.
This track aims to put the emergent new landscape of "social labs" front and center. Building on established STS traditions in lab studies, technical democracy, public engagement, and the politics of innovation, we aim to explore the epistemic, empirical and political terrain in which these labs are mobilized. We especially invite papers asking:
•How are laboratories deployed across diverse settings?
•What is the promise of lab approaches? Which/whose problems are they supposed to solve?
•How are social labs envisioned to function? Which instruments and practices do they deploy?
•How do labs contest/reconfigure/stabilize socio-technical orders?
•What forms of expertise to these labs use? How are they governed? How legitimized?
•Which forms of participation do (or don't) they mobilize?
•Which conceptual and methodological resources from STS can we bring to bear on the phenomenon?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Mapping design methods for public policy innovation in European Policy Labs
This paper discusses the emergence of design approaches for policy innovation in Europe, mobilized through specialised government bodies known as Policy Labs. We mapped which design practices are being deployed at each stage of the policymaking cycle to innovate how public policies come into being.
This paper discusses the emergence of design approaches for policy innovation in Europe, mobilized through specialised governmental bodies known as Policy Labs. The purpose of this article is to map how Policy Labs in Europe are incorporating design practices at distinct stages of the policymaking cycle.
Policy Labs, defined as units that develop public policies in a design-oriented fashion, are tasked to innovate how these are conceived and implemented to gain in effectiveness and efficiency. However, these structures are relatively novel, and the way in which they operate significantly differs as public policymaking is a context-dependent activity. The relevance of this research is given by the scarce theoretical work on how and under which conditions design is adding value to public policy innovation.
Firstly, we discuss public policy innovation in terms of a product vs. process innovation dichotomy. Secondly, we surveyed a sample of 21 Policy Labs in Europe operating at various levels of government for their understanding of public policy innovation. Thirdly, and based on the process model of public policymaking, we look into which specific design methods are currently being deployed to innovate how public policies come into being.
The survey showed the importance of the process perspective in understanding public policy innovation. The mapping of methods utilised by Policy Labs offered a rich picture of the needs and challenges these face in innovating public policies. Contrasting the findings with the literature on design methods, we found a significant gap in the awareness of the methods' nature.
Encounters and disencounters: design, innovation and the 'public' in public sector innovation labs in Ibero-America
This paper inquiries in to some of the complex relationships that are articulated when mixing, overlapping and transferring concepts like innovation, participation, design and public policy; to the peculiar adaptations of the idea of Public sector innovation labs in Latin America.
As is the trend in many parts of the world, governments in Latin America are experimenting with alternative governance initiatives through public sector innovation labs. Such new experimental 'institutional forms' act in local, regional or national level, seeking to foster experimentation and innovation by promoting flexibilization of the public sector and reaching citizens through participation. However, there is not clear definition of what kind of 'institutional forms' these innovation Labs are neither what public sector innovation is (Tõnurist et al 2017). Even though their working groups are multidisciplinar, these labs explicitly employ designers, and seek to introduce 'design thinking' and other practices typical of design oriented disciplines; to solve problems they define as 'social' or 'public'. Because of this, there is also increasing controversy as to whether they should be based on evidence or designerly approaches (Kimbell Bailey 2017). This paper tries inquire in to some of these complex relationships, as they are visible when the idea of Public sector innovation labs is been adapted in Latin America. Mixing, overlapping, transferring and importing concepts like innovation, participation, design and public policy take peculiar forms in this new context. The research is based on literature review, content analysis and semi- structured interviews of 2 cases of public sector innovation labs that act in a Municipal/local level in Latin America: 'Laboratorio para la ciudad' in Mexico (started by the mayor of Mexico) and MvdLab in Uruguay (initiated by the project 'Civic innovation' promoted by the Ibero-America General Secretariat).
"A safe place to do dangerous things": Policy Labs as the future of policymaking in Europe
We explore the recent rise of 'policy laboratories' in the public sector based on a case study of the EU Commission's 'EU Policy Lab'. We argue that the deployed practices and rationales propose a policymaking model that reconfigures the role of experts, publics, and policy organizations.
In this paper, we explore 'policy laboratories' as a growing public policy trend. Based on the promise to create a more inclusive, experimental, and responsive policy process, 'policy labs' propose to harness the perceived virtues of innovation and design for incumbent policy institutions. Drawing on empirical work at the 'EU Policy Lab', our research addresses the following: What problems are policy labs trying to solve? How do policy labs create and release policy? Which policy areas are shaped, based on which assumptions and conditions? How is participatory expertise operationalized for policy co-design? We argue that policy labs propose a different role for "the policy maker of the future" - from 'expert' to 'enabler' or 'community manager' - with new tools and novel forms of knowledge (e.g., design thinking). Moreover, our findings suggest that policy labs see themselves as a locus of 'reality' that reflects, and can be used to reform, citizens' access to the policy process. We borrow from STS work on socially robust knowledge, lab studies, and technological humility to analyze how policy labs mobilize isolated spaces to make the policy process at once more scientific and more open and co-creative. We look into how the policymaker is urged to adopt diverse practical techniques to involve a diversified pool of actors in policymaking as well as to systematically test and modify policies as they are being crafted, while at the same time labs are trying to position themselves vis-à-vis constraints imposed by the hosting policy institution.
Design thinking-apparatuses. The quality and scope of lab-solutions
I present ethnographic data from design thinking-workshops and explore the epistemo-political work in these settings. Following a practice-oriented approach I discuss its specific problematizations and how they align with expectations of finding practicable solutions.
Design Thinking is a frequently used framework in lab-settings. Promising to deliver user-centered and practical solutions to complex problems, it seems like the perfect tool to enable participation while comprehending a broad range of expertise. However, empirically informed discussions on what actually happens in design thinking-settings are widely missing.
Drawing on ethnographic data from a study on the topic (Seitz 2017), I will describe the material arrangements of design thinking-labs and how whiteboards, post-its, stopwatches, method-cards and human participants interact in design thinking-practices. I will formulate a neo-materialistic argument and interpret design thinking-labs as apparatuses (Barad 2007: 50ff.) that produce specific phenomena and problematizations (Foucault 2013: 255ff.), while eliminating others. With this process-oriented focus on design thinking-practices, we can better asses the scope of design-thinking solutions, the forms of participation it deploys, the forms of expertise it can include and the quality of phenomena and problematizations it produces. This allows a better understanding of lab-approaches and their epistemo-political consequences.
Barad, Karen (2007): Meeting the universe halfway. Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke Univ. Press.
Foucault, Michel (2013): Politics, Philosophy, Culture. Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Seitz, Tim (2017): Design Thinking und der neue Geist des Kapitalismus. Soziologische Betrachtungen einer Innovationskultur. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag.
Testing future societies - how test beds re-interpret and co-produce technology and society
This paper points at the underexplored co-productionist character of test beds, stating that these sites are as much about the testing and demonstration of technologies as of future socio-technical orders and associated forms of governance.
Test beds have emerged as a prominent instrument to foster innovation across geographical regions and technical domains. Although its popularity and proliferation, research has so far widely dismissed the co-productionist character of this test bed's experimental approach to innovation. Test beds as spatially confined, purposeful experimental settings aim at once to test, demonstrate, and advance the viability of new sociotechnical arrangements. Addressing the question of how test beds re-interpret innovation on both the level of technological development and the policy level, I will present a definition of test beds and an analytic framework for this distinctive approach to innovation. My research draws among others on Sheila Jasanoff's approach of co-production as well as in-depth empirical analysis from two case studies - an urban smart energy campus and a rural renewable energy network. Test bed innovation unfolds along three characteristic tensions: (1) an oscillation between controlled experimentation and messy co-creation processes, (2) a dual logic of quasi-scientific testing and public demonstration, (3) an emphasis on place and spatial delineation versus an inherent promise of scalability and generalizability premised on the presumed representativeness of the test bed for a future society at large. Test beds reconfigure and "test" society around a new set of technologies and associated modes of governance based on particular visions of the future. Analyzing test beds as sites of co-production, I also raise questions of a responsible use and governance of test beds as a policy instrument.
Making urban laboratories: living with bioengineered mosquitos in Medellín
This paper considers how in the context of a global health technology involving the release of bioengineered mosquitos, the city of Medellín is turned into a living laboratory produced by a variety of actors, and investigates how knowledge is made in a heterogeneous and contested setting.
The World Mosquito Program is currently releasing bioengineered mosquitos across the city of Medellín, Colombia, as a potential new global health technology to combat diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. To evidence the effectiveness and efficacy of the project, the city is cast as an urban living laboratory, through which scientists, inhabitants, and mosquitos are producing and experiencing alternative possible futures.
This urban laboratory is spatially delimited into precise grids, and temporally mapped through the weekly measuring of information from mosquitos. This laboratory is "made" by many actors - human and nonhuman - and therefore is not homogenously produced. The making of the lab involves many voices all jostling for space with various intensity, spanning from the combos (criminal groups) controlling parts of the city, to local political tensions surrounding the project, and going through the city inhabitants' homes. Indeed, to produce data required for proving the success of the project, mosquito traps are placed throughout the city, mostly in people's homes. The laboratory thus extends from the sealed insectariums into the very core of inhabitants' intimate spaces, and is co-created through the meetings of mosquitos, scientists, and inhabitants of the city.
Drawing upon 11 months of fieldwork, this paper considers how this living laboratory is produced. How do contestations arise in the meeting of science and intimate spaces, in the entanglement of actors making this laboratory? How are new socio-technical orders stabilized in these fluid and heterogeneous settings?
Turning Wallonia into a lab: when economic strategies meet creativity and experimentation dynamics
This communication will analyse the political legitimacy of emerging forms of public participation in innovation-making processes (e.g. Living and Fab Labs). It will highlight the potential tension between an appeal to creativity and experimentation and the rigidity of controlled economic strategies
Over the last four decades, modes of governance of science, technology and innovation (STI) gradually shifted in new directions. First, STI governance has known a so-called 'participatory turn', influenced by a deliberative ideal and supposed to enrich democratic orders by including publics in STI decision-making processes. This participatory turn was extensively analysed in the STS literature, as it opened up new ways of governing STI through an array of democratic experimentations. More recently, other practices of experimentation with publics emerged, differing from deliberative ones as they seek to include publics directly in innovation-making processes. Especially in the European Union, multiple public authorities started to promote and enact concepts and practices such as 'citizen-science' and 'open-innovation'. Wallonia (Belgium) has been at the forefront of this shift. In 2010, public authorities launched a political strategy emphasizing the rhetoric of 'experimentation' and a vision of 'society-as-a-lab'. Striving for economic redeployment, they called for the establishment of new 'open' spaces, including Living- and Fab-Labs, portrayed as 'creative' and 'innovative'. Whereas STS scholarship has started to pay attention to the innovation potential of these emerging spaces, little has been done to analyse them as democratic practices directly participating to the governance of STI. This communication, informed by interviews and documents analysis, scrutinizes such practices and the political discourses that underpin them to understand the political legitimacy that these forms of public participation enjoy. The communication highlights the potential tension between an appeal to bottom-up creativity and experimentation, and the rigidity of top-down controlled economic strategies.
Producing findings in an industrial usability testing lab
Usability testing is an important approach in the shaping of product and service design outcomes in industrial settings. I present a study examining how findings are practically 'produced' in and as the work of stakeholders, both running tests and observing them as they unfold.
Usability testing (often called 'user testing', or just 'testing') is routinely employed in industry to shape product and service design outcomes. While there is a long tradition in STS of examining the social practices that more typical 'labs' turn on (e.g., 'scientific' labs), usability labs have received little attention (except Woolgar (1991)).
I present an ethnomethodological study that starts to uncover how usability findings emerge in practical action. In order to do this, informed by a broader ethnography, I use video recordings of usability labs at a design consultancy where various stakeholders and participants engage in usability tests with a prototype website. This study seeks to articulate what constitutes usability testing's practical 'production work' and thus begin to nuance conventional views of usability findings as straightforwardly 'there to be found' or 'read off' by competent evaluators. As exhibits of this production work, I explore how stakeholders collaboratively locate 'troubles' in the test's unfolding, and then surface these as candidate findings, some of which ultimately may be still be 'passed over' and dissipated. As part of this I unpack how troubles and solutions are formulated as a matter of this production work, and how this turns on, variously, the topicalisation of prototyping, the organisation of test protocol, and the contingencies brought to this work by stakeholders' particular orientations.
The study suggests conceptual distinctions between existing work on labs for experimentation, or for simulation, and sites like usability labs where artefacts themselves come to be constituted very differently.
Urban labs as resilience practices
We focus on the governance of resilience through urban labs. We approach the laboratization of urban life as a form of experimental governance. By scrutinizing the meaning of the theoretical notion of urban labs for policy and practices we provide insight into the strategies of resilience.
Today local policymakers (semi-)public service providers and citizens are increasingly engaging in urban labs to find local solutions for global problems. Urban labs hold the promise of enhancing resilience as they focus on experimentation in which knowledge production, learning and system change are key.
In our paper we focus on the governance of resilience through urban labs, approaching them as fundamental aspects of the agenda of building resilient societies that may offer a more progressive politics (Rose & Lentzos, 2016). We approach the laboratization of urban life as a form of experimental governance (Sabel & Zeitlin, 2012) in response to strategic uncertainty. Together experimental governance and resilience strategies, materialize in the urban lab as a new socio-material infrastructure in which an alternative, resilient future is imagined.
To analyse this new form of governance, in-depth studies are needed to find the problematizations for which resilience seems to be the answer; the techniques that are developed to improve resilience; the forms of expertise that are shaped to define and manage resilience; the notions of personhood and techniques of the resilient self that are being deployed (Rose & Lentzos, 2016). This paper contributes to building this highly needed agenda by providing insight into the meaning of the theoretical notion of urban labs for policy and practices. For this, we conduct a critical discourse analysis of policy documents as well as in-depth interviews with key figures involved in urban labs within the city of Rotterdam (a city in well on its way to laboratization).
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.