Learning from the Community Innovation Lab Pilots: A Revised Framework for Round 2

Lab participants in Providence, RI write out their hopes for community change
Lab participants in Providence, RI write out their hopes for community change

In December 2015, we completed Phase 1 of the Community Innovation Lab in our pilot locations, Winston-Salem, NC and the Trinity Square neighborhood in Providence, RI.

To learn more about what happened in Phase 1, check out our blog series about origins of the Lab, selecting the sites, rooting the Lab locally, and our photo essays about Workshops 1 and 2. Also see this blog series from the Kenan Institute, one of the local conveners in Winston-Salem, detailing their process and progress.

As we head into Round 2 of CIL (we’re in the process of selecting two new sites now), we’re pausing to reflect on what we’ve learned so far, and how that’s led us to a revised Community Innovation Lab design for Round Two.


Our Big Takeaways from Piloting the Labs

1. Slow the pace between and within workshops: Spaced only four weeks apart, Workshops 1 and 2 felt on top of each other. While it’s important to maintain momentum, it’s also important not to overwhelm participants and organizers. We also learned that we need to plan for more debrief time during workshops. Integrating the arts into systems change is complex work and we found the group needed ample time to digest and reflect.

2. Integrating local artists into the facilitation team requires more time and training: In order for our local artist facilitation partners to integrate their practices deeply with the overall focus of the Labs on systemic change, we learned that we needed to devote more time up-front to training our artist facilitators in the key practices and principles of this discipline, and to conduct research into the relationship of artistic practices to systems analysis and intervention design. At the same time, we need to find more opportunities to incorporate their existing artistic practices in service of the Lab’s goals of building trust and relationships and developing shared visions.

3. Engage influencers outside of the Lab Workshop process: During the pilot, we learned that it was not feasible to engage some community influencers (particularly those with titular authority) for two full days of intensive workshops. These influencers included some city council members, police officers, city officials, business leaders, and non-profit leaders. However, we recognize that keeping these stakeholders engaged and up-to-date about the activities of the Lab is crucial.  Moving forward, we are working with the local Conveners to conduct regular, shorter meetings with these stakeholders in a parallel track to the Lab Workshops.

Revisions to the Lab design

In addition to improvements based on those learnings, we’ve made a few other significant design revisions based on the pilots.

1. Planning for a robust research phase: In the pilot phase, time pressures made it difficult to do a deep research process in advance of the Lab workshops. Also, we were working from the assumption that bringing a cross-section of the system in the room would enable a robust live research process. This was true, but only to a point. Having had a clearer understanding of the perspectives of the group in advance and a shared set of data to work from would have accelerated our sense making about the complex challenge.

2.  Center the arts even more in both process and outcomes:  In the pilot phase, we centered the Labs squarely on the complex community challenge (which was not an arts-based challenge, but a civic one), and on aiming for systems change. While we use arts-based and experiential facilitation techniques, we stayed very open to letting the Lab members take the process where they wanted, even if it didn’t appear on the surface to be deeply connected to the arts. In this next round of the Lab, we’re going to intentionally pull the Lab back closer to a centering on the arts. We’re specifically looking for sites where there’s a compelling case that the arts are central to responding to the challenge and where there’s a desire to generate arts-based strategies for change.

3. Shorten the Lab and reduce the investment needed: In the pilot phase, the Lab design was nearly two years long and required a $1 million investment. In the second year of the original design, we planned for an intensive facilitation framework and large prototyping grants for working groups that emerged from the first year of the Lab.  Though the pilots, we learned that this extended support may not fit every local context, and there may simply not be enough local resources to raise $400,000-$500,000 to match national funds. In the new design, the Lab is closer to a year long, the investment under $500,000 in total, and our goal is to support up the emergent working groups over a shorter period, helping them secure local and national funding to continue their collaborations.

Winston-Salem Lab members discuss local system dynamics and inequities.

We believe that the revised framework for the Round 2 of the Community Innovation Lab will better help us guide the communities we’re working alongside on a journey towards arts-integrated systems change. We’ll start by devoting more time to capturing stories and identifying patterns with a wide variety of stakeholders. Then we’ll work together to uncover the structures and mindsets that are keeping the system stuck. Finally, we’ll test out strategies for leveraged action and cultivate the relationships necessary to sustain those strategies.

If you want to hear more about the revised design, check out the webinar we hosted.  You’ll see these design changes reflected in the call for Letters of Inquiry we released in March.

We’re thankful to our partners in Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI for going on a journey with us in 2015. The learning has been incredibly rich and contributed to a revised and much improved Lab design that we’re thrilled to be rolling out in 2016 in two new communities.

Stay tuned for more on how the Lab process is unfolds!

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.