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  • Writer's pictureClara Richards

Knowledge to Policy Lab: a collective way to co-create solutions for pressing policy problems

Confidence to handle complex problems, include multiple types of knowledge in decision-making, co-create solutions for policy problems, expanding relationships with different types of stakeholders, strengthen leadership skills…

These were some of the main outcomes of the Knowledge to Policy Lab we ran during 2021. In a highly volatile and uncertain policy context, leaders from the government and civil society in Trinidad and Tobago, got together during 9 months to co-create and experiment ideas for solving the pressing issues they face around immigration, education, waste, racism, gender violence, among other issues.

The feedback we received and results we saw are due to multiple factors: highly committed people who really want to see a change in their areas of work, the interaction between them that helped them feel they are not alone in this, and the structure of the Lab which allowed for co-creation and learning. As we reflect as a team in P&I, we think that a crucial factor must have been also, the relationships forged between facilitators (us) and participants.

"The [mentoring] calls keep it "human", and makes me enjoy the learning experience more than I would have. It provides an open space to just talk about things freely with someone who understands or can see my train of thought (…) It is helpful for talking about things I didn't share in the class or wanted to discuss in-depth but it would have been a bit off-topic." "This Lab has assisted me in providing solutions for problems of great magnitudes, it has built my confidence in handling technical issues, and provided new perspectives in making key decisions and assisting in creating policy."

Despite not being able to travel for this work, we were able to connect with people in a meaningful way, they let us “get in” their worlds, realities, professional and sometimes personal contexts. For this we are so grateful, as this is how we can do our job best. We are facilitators of a process of change that happens within each of the participants, we are not bringing that change from outside. Our role is to identify and encourage that potential, and support it throughout the Lab. The Lab consists in exactly that, creating a holding space that can trigger creative processes– with content, ideas, case studies, videos, readings, speakers, of course

– but mainly, a lot of listening and generative dialogues and interactions to nurture ideas.

Participants were invited to choose a real challenge they faced and to design solutions following a “prototyping".

A prototype is a practical and tested mini version of what later could become a pilot project that can be shared and eventually scaled experimenting to get feedback from the field, adapt and where useful, to scale up.

So, what makes a Lab different from a traditional online course? Our labs build on collective intelligence and we consider ourselves facilitators of creative processes to address recurrent challenges in a new way. Participants are on the front seat. Labs combine sharing of knowledge and resources, with live sessions with group exercises, practitioners sharing how they applied what is being learned on the ground, personal mentoring calls to deepen the learning and reflection experience, and practical exercises to apply new concepts, approaches and methods to concrete work related challenges and opportunities. We try to include participants from different sectors (in this case policymakers and CSO leaders working on a range of topics) to promote a systemic approach to problems and solutions and enable cross-fertilization.

At P&I we are thankful to the Pan American Foundation who supported this Lab and was a very engaged partner. We are looking forward to holding new Labs in 2022 in different contexts so if you think you or your organisation would be interested in exploring how to use a Lab to foster learning and change, get in touch with us!

“[The Lab] brought awareness about a more expansive and inclusive approach to engaging and collaborating with the widest possible range of stakeholders. Such an approach ensures that policies and procedures, for any area of work, have a greater chance for success and efficacy.”

The topics covered throughout the Lab were: Wicked problems and systemic approaches, types of knowledge to address wicked problems, whose knowledge counts, culture and leadership, crystallising and prioritising and prototyping. The modules were followed by a “prototype festival” to share the initiatives that emerged from the process.

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