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This is part of a 5-part series to help you design and plan a Lab. Complete Phase 1 - Defining before starting this phase.

This page helps you plan how to generate knowledge and potential ways to act when designing a Change Lab - the 'Exploring' phase.

In the previous phase, you tried to define your problem. But your analysis will almost certainly differ from the Lab's other stakeholders. Creating a problem analysis together will create a better reflection of reality, and make solutions more likely to succeed. It also helps you build trust with partners.

Labs follow a process of diverge<>converge.

Here, you are diverging: generating as much information and as many avenues to act on as possible.

There are many ways to generate knowledge in a Labs context. Core principle is that we do warm, relational data collection. We've included our seven favourites below: pick and choose the ones that make sense for your situation. Complete this worksheet when you have decided what you're going to do.


A. Host an event

Most of our Labs start with an open event, as a public kick-off that can help you source knowledge to direct the future agenda of the Lab.

Ideally, you'll co-create the Lab direction with the event participants. Reserve a lot of space to dive deeper into the issue.

Read our event guidelines, with a sample agenda, general principles and tips and tricks.


B. Hold dialogue interviews

An interview where you are part of the conversation, and not just the only person asking questions.

A Dialogue Interview has a natural flow, where you prepare a set of questions, but don’t feel the need to stick to them.

When to use it: It works very well to engage stakeholders leading up to, for example, your Lab kick-off event. It’s an intense exercise for your Lab core team, and a great test whether there’s energy and drive to invest in the Lab process. Read a detailed guide by the Presencing Institute.


The Energy Change Lab asked 15 experts ‘What is the role of citizens in future energy systems?’, transcribed the interviews, and worked in a group to identify the most relevant key themes - supplemented by discussions with practitioners in Tanzania.


C. Plan sensing journeys

A field trip where you let go of your role as ‘expert’. It is very powerful to include sensing journeys in an event; it’s unexpected, energizing and gives great insights.

Instead of coming up with opinions or giving advice to the person you are with, immerse yourself in a situation with people you don't normally engage with. Don’t interview - visit and observe; use all your senses.

A sensing journey has three parts:

  • Preparation
  • Journey
  • Debrief

Read a detailed description of the method.


The Food Change Lab in Zambia chose eight locations related to the food system, and sent out groups of participants to each.

One participant who had visited a charcoal-burning site came back shocked that the practice still continued, and became determined to do something about it.


D. Conduct citizen research

Citizen research involves using evidence that citizens actively generate themselves. It's a a cooperative, co-creative way of exploration.

Instead of collecting evidence or hiring a researcher to collect it, give citizens who are involved with the issue you're addressing tools to collect the data themselves.

If communities can generate evidence themselves, either as primary data or from existing information, they may be more effective in lobbying and advocacy around their priorities, and less dependent on others to set the agenda.

Read this Hivos-IIED paper for more information on how to do it.


In the Food Change Labs, factory workers in Bandung (Indonesia) and Karabole district (Uganda) completed food diaries over a set period of time that described their daily food intake, and where it came from.

The Energy Change Lab Tanzania asked selected residents in a neighborhood of Dar es Salaam to monitor the quality of their electricity with special devices.


E. Map the system

Systems mapping means analysing the elements that make up the system of your issue - actors, power relationships, information flows, etc.

There’s countless tools for system mapping. We've included two simple, creative ones, which work very well when you’re with a group.

  1. System-on-a-wall: This is a nice tool to collect and organise information during an event. You place an almost empty matrix on a wall and invite participants to contribute. After each session, bring participants together and ask them to identify new insights around the categories you have identified.
  2. 3D system sculpting: This tool is all about getting your hands dirty: you will literally build the system you're working with, in 3D. It’s a highly creative session, and you can expect some resistance from participants. But we have seen the biggest sceptics fall in love with it, so it’s definitely worth it.


F. Run a Knowledge Cafe

Knowledge Cafes are public events with engaging talks and interactive group discussions.

Make an effort to document everything that's being said.

Read a guide to running knowledge cafes.


Completed the 'Exploring' phase and want to move on?

Move on to the next step - Phase 3: Connecting