Toward Democratic Transformations: A Lab on Labs
Current times are characterized by an increase of wicked problems that challenge established forms of democratic governance. Problems such as environmental crises, growing social inequality, and problems of representation cannot be inscribed within territorial political boundaries or understood in organizational silos. They need timely actions. These responses need to occur from the local to the global level and go beyond the traditional divide in specific policy areas. In addition, in an increasingly complex world, such problems call for particular expertise. How can we foster change towards sustainability in a democratic manner when problems are increasingly complex?
In response to these problems, different types of labs, such as innovation labs, living labs or transformation labs, have been created world-wide. They bring together multiple stakeholders to create innovative solutions. These labs have been, however, hardly acknowledged by the scholarship on democracy and sustainability as one mode of change.
The IASS research project Democratic (Re)configurations of Sustainability Transformations in cooperation with the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 (based at the IASS) aims to explore the limits and opportunities of labs for addressing the challenges of democracy and for solving sustainability problems. The research group sets out to understand their potential as a democratic innovation. Moreover, it questions how labs can contribute to ways of social, ecological, and economical sustainability.
To this end, the IASS hosted a lab on labs to explore the design, methods, and configurations of labs. The Lab gathered a small and diverse group of people, comprising international lab experts, leading scholars of democratic innovations and sustainability research, and decision-makers in the field of sustainability politics. During the lab, participants explored and experimented with lab methods and principles that promote democracy and sustainability. Together, we questioned how can labs contribute to democratic innovation and sustainability in governments and design early prototypes for such labs.