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This is part of a 5-part series to help you design and plan a Lab. Complete Phase 3 - Connecting before starting this phase.

This page helps you plan how to test some potential solutions to your convening question, on a small scale.

In the 'Connecting' phase, you made sense of your findings and identified strategic leverage points and a direction for solutions. Now, we move on to action.

Prototyping involves creating a simple, low-fidelity version of your idea and testing it with the people you want to use it. In a Lab, a prototype can be anything from a concrete project to a meeting or a service.

We do this with the aim of learning what works. Those learnings, those verified ideas for solutions, are ultimately the results of your Lab. Remember that learning what does not work is also a valuable result.


A. Construct a hypothesis

You are implementing a prototype because you want to quickly test what works. This means that a prototype is in essence a hypothesis of how you think a problem will be solved. You think this is the way to go, but you have to validate it by trying it out.

The basis of a prototype, therefore, is a strong hypothesis. A strong hypothesis is testable, falsifiable and unproven yet.

Please see this document with instructions on how you can create a strong hypothesis with your group.

After constructing a hypothesis, you make it practical by planning and designing how you will test it: by means of a prototype.


B. Design a prototype

When designing your prototype, the 6 Rs are a helpful tool. Ask whether your proposed prototype is:

  1. relevant? (does it matter to all your stakeholders equally?)
  2. right? (is it at the right size and scope?)
  3. revolutionary? (does it have the potential to change something)
  4. rough? (can you try it out on a small scale?)
  5. relationally effective? (does it use the community’s existing skills?)
  6. rapid? (does it give you enough time to get feedback from people?)

Sometimes, you might only facilitate the planning of a process but not be that involved in executing it. At other times, you might be building a prototype and giving people the opportunity to test it directly.

Complete this worksheet with your answers.


C. Budget for your prototype

As Lab convenor, you need to reserve budget for prototyping from the start of your Lab, and make sure the funding is easily accessible for participants.

How to budget for your prototype?

As a minimum, reserve some funding that you can allocate to prototyping groups when they want to meet each other or organise a meeting. The money you put aside should be easy to disburse to participants: months of due diligence will mean that you lose the energy of the process.

It’s usually clear to everyone which prototype ‘deserves’ funding. Look for the groups that are most motivated, invest their own in-kind resources, or seem most likely to successfully learn from the experience.

Prototypes don’t necessarily need to be financed by the Lab. Have open conversations about this at the outset, to avoid situations where Hivos is seen purely as a donor.


For one year, the Energy Change Lab designed two prototypes to foster productive uses of energy in Tanzanian villages. For examples of small-scale prototypes designed and tested in just five days, read the 2018 Energy Safari report.


D. Complete a prototyping canvas

Just because a prototype happens on a small scale, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to plan it well. Remember that collecting what you learn in a systematised way is crucial - and that you will need to think about this in advance.

You can make a solid plan with a prototyping canvas, which gives you a clear framework for collecting information. Fill in the canvas jointly with other Lab participants.

If you’re doing a very short prototyping process or you want to do a short planning exercise at a workshop, you might be interested in this simplified version of the prototyping canvas.


E. Learn from your prototypes

Organise learning sessions throughout your prototyping process. Aim to build in at least two iterations where you change the idea based on feedback from users.

Don’t worry if your prototypes fail or don’t live up to your expectations. This is the whole point of starting small!

Document what you learn, and share it so that others can access it too.


Done those steps and want more?

Move on to the next step - Phase 5: Unleashing