Accelerator Labs: the challenge of engaging the mothership

At a time when many would claim that we reached “peak labs”, UNDP is launching 60 Accelerator Labs across the world. How do we build on lessons from other organisations and our own innovation journey to prevent the new labs from becoming (yet another) island, separated from the core business at UNDP? In this post, we share our current thinking, based on the hypotheses that the best way for labs to accelerate impact is not to create new projects at the edge, but to engage with what is already in place (the existing project portfolio) and provide a new frame to understand patterns and relevance gaps. This takes us into the territory of portfolio sensemaking and portfolio design, and creating new mindsets and models to think with, rather than methods and innovation pilots.

Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

First move: of antibodies and centrifugal forces

“In Argentina recently, a digital government-led service design approach envisioned, designed and delivered digital driving licenses in 65 days, from scratch. This is extraordinary compared to the comparatively geological pace typically witnessed in policymaking and delivery. But could such processes radically reduce the number of people driving in the first place?” Dan Hill

Second move (inwards) — focusing on the core

Second move (upwards): abstraction and creating new meaning

“This is often what we mean by creativity: seeing in new ways, spotting patterns, and generating frames. ” Geoff Mulgan

Early draft architecture of UNDP sensemaking protocol
Loops of intelligent learning (Source: Geoff Mulgan)
Sensemaking session in action in Bangladesh: identifying patterns to create new frames

Third move: building portfolios of learning options

“The important thing for government is not to do things which individuals are doing already and to do them a little bit better or a little bit worse, but to do those things which at present are not done at all” R. M. Keynes



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