The Living Social Lab sphere


CiviNovus is a social business situated near Cape Town, South Africa. Our purpose is to make the world a better place by incubating, accelerating, leading, managing and consulting to emerging and established businesses. CiviNovus acts in four spheres as part of our work.

These spheres are:
1. The Academic and Professional Learning Sphere
2. The Social Business Sphere
3. The Living Social Lab Sphere
4. The Sharing through Showcasing Sphere

3.  The Living Social Lab Sphere

In the Living Social Lab sphere we co-create and support living social labs to innovatively build prototype solutions to complex societal problems through using social innovation methods and solutions and reflective practice based learning. We have built social labs in Saldanha Bay Municipality, Hessequa Municipality, Mosselbaai Municipality and Prince Albert Municipality in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. We prototyped in partnerships a solar delineation plant in Witsand on the Cape Indian Ocean, fibre to the home municipal solutions in Saldanha Bay on the Cape Atlantic Ocean and a bespoke tourism, health and agricultural solution for local development in all of the municipal jurisdictions we have worked with. An interesting iteration of a virtual living social lab is our plastic waste open innovation competition where community solutions are co-created in cooperation with the actors creating and holding the solutions for plastic waste.

Our living social labs are based on the broader social laboratory concept.
The social laboratory concept, also sometimes known as the “Social Lab”, is deliberately designed and facilitated as a real and sometimes virtual “problem-owner” platform. On this platform possible solutions to complex problems are co-created by the problem owners in a  learning process facilitated with CiviNovus facilitation approaches. These approaches utilise multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder attempts to resolve persistent social problems by means of  socially innovative, novel and unconventional approaches.  A living social lab is specifically created as a “safe space” which is non-hierarchical and relatively unstructured. The work done by the people in the problem context is merely facilitated and coordinated by the CiviNovus facilitator team using learning towards  leadership based on reflective practices. All self- discovered, identified and described problems can be interrogated without boundaries or constraints.

In this process the techniques of human-centered design thinking are employed with the intention to find co-created solutions and then to build prototypes to deal with these problems. During the prototype implementation the Schwella action learning model is applied to effect continuous quality improvement in terms of participant competencies and building systemic institutional capacity using reflective practice-based leadership as learning methodologies.
Largely pioneered by Zaid Hassan, the author of “The Social labs revolution”, the initial  concept has been applied amongst other in applications by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and Oxford University. International NGOs, international governmental organizations and a number of academic, research and professional service  institutions now embrace the social labs approach as well.

Social Labs in the Western Cape Province of South Africa started out  during 2015, when Professor Erwin Schwella, at the time attached to SocioNovus at the University of Stellenbosch, was retained as a “knowledge-partner” to designated municipalities in the Western Cape in order to assist in guiding the process of establishing social laboratories. Subsequently this initiative has morphed into a significant social innovation  initiative under the banner of CiviNovus.  This initiative  seeks to facilitate ethical, effective, efficient and partnerships-driven community development using social labs facilitated by Professor  Schwella, now the Dean of the School of Social Innovation at Hugenote Kollege.

Social lab basics as CiviNovus applies them:

The above dynamics of a social lab were contextualised within a local governance-initiated model.
Social labs can also be initiated by any stakeholder in the community, for example a faith-based community, a civil society organisation, a business or business chamber, or a community co-operative.
In general, it must be clear that nobody controls a social lab or its dynamic and functioning processes. Its function is ultimately to facilitate and coordinate. This coordination role is indeed also a gatekeeper function – intentionally so, since its functions are very vulnerable to the “politics” around the process, and the facilitators deal with politics as part of a so-called neutral ground concept., This happens by means of: