Curricula - Knowledge - Navigation

PARTICIPATION Social Labs: A Shared Participatory Methodology for Fieldwork

Social address complex social challenges and offer a real-life environment in which to explore problem based solutions. They have an orientation to action, involving interventions, or socalled “pilot actions”, which need to be developed, tested and applied. In this article, we discuss the design and implementation of social labs in the context of the Analysing and Preventing Extremism via Participation project.

What are “Social Labs”?

Social labs are local hubs that help to increase the effectiveness of research & innovation actions by fostering local experimental learning processes. As a result, they are increasingly becoming an important tool in policy innovation and design. The social lab concept was initially introduced by Zaid Hassan in 2014 and in addition to overlapping and intersecting with other types of labs (media/innovation/living), social labs also share a number of commonalities with “action research”, and the pedagogical approach of “problem based learning”. This is perhaps unsurprising given each of these approaches are firmly rooted in the philosophy of pragmatism.

The process of a social lab consists of three interdependent, iterative phases:  

  • The first phase is discussion and diagnosis of current practices and existing policies. Essentially, in the first part of the process, the idea is for participants to activate and share any and all prior knowledge that they may have on a subject in order that, as a group, they can identify a clear problem statement, or set of goals for the social lab. In the PARTICIPATION project, the problem should fit within the overall goal of preventing radicalisation and polarisation.  
  • The next phase is the design and implementation of pilot actions. Having identified a problem statement or goal, participants then co-design pilot actions (social experiments/interventions), which in the case of PARTICIPATION, will be designed to serve as strategies for dealing with radicalisation and polarisation.  
  • The final phase is reflection and feedback. Having conducted the pilot actions designed in phase two, the participants reflect on the outcomes of these interventions and what can be learned from the overall social lab experience. In the case of PARTICIPATION, this will also entail thinking about how to further embed social inclusion into radicalisation policies & funding activities.

Social labs have an active orientation, and are aimed at addressing systemic root issues. They do so through the creation of experiments and interventions that will be developed, tested, and applied in real world settings. Because of the complexity of challenges like radicalisation, the involvement of a wide range of expertise, experience, and knowledge on the subject is necessary, as is active participation. Importantly, social labs should not presume their outcomes. The implementation of a social lab is an ongoing, iterative process which must accommodate unplanned developments, new information, shifting constituencies, and changing contexts. 

Social labs 

  • Are embedded in the real world  
  • Address systemic root causes  
  • Require diverse types of expertise/experience/knowledge  
  • Require active participation  
  • Give agency to people as leaders of change and innovation  
  • Have an iterative, agile approach  
  • Create new models of relationship and engagement  
  • Offer spaces for learning and experimentation


For more information on Social Labs visit the PARTICIPATION website!







Extremism, Prevention, Radicalisation, Empowerment, Violence, Polarisation, Jihad