What is a Rapid Action Lab?
A Rapid Action Lab is a strategy for quickly coming up with and testing out possible solutions to a stated challenge. It is designed to address complex social situations, where changes can happen rapidly and the stakes are high for the people involved.
The Rapid Action Lab is a process which centres on involving the people most connected to the issue in developing the solutions. This includes those experiencing the challenge, those working on the challenge, industry specialists and others who are deeply committed to the challenge locally and/or through personal connections. This mix of participants is key to ensuring a deep knowledge of the challenge and in having a diversity of opinions, ideas and abilities.
3 KEY STEPS
STEP ONE / BRINGING IN THE COMMUNITY
Between 30 to 40 key stakeholders are identified and invited to come together. The aim is to have a wide range of people who are connected to the challenge, in different ways.
STEP TWO / KICK-OFF WORKSHOP
The identified stakeholders spend three days together in a workshop process to deepen their knowledge on the topic, ideate on and develop 4-6 different solutions to the challenge. They are organised into teams, one team per idea. Each team creates (with support) an action plan for the coming weeks and receives a budget to create their prototypes.
STEP THREE / AGILE ACTION CYCLES
Each of the teams begin working on creating their solution to the challenge. This process runs over a period of 3 months, during which they will have coaching from a support team and regular touch points with the other teams. The work will be done in iterative Cycles, meaning they will create a fast prototype solution, test it out, evaluate the results, make changes, test again and so on.
After the cycles are completed, the aim is to have created products, services and/or initiatives which are directly addressing the challenge, and have the potential to carry on.
WHAT SORT OF CHALLENGES ARE SUITED TO A RAPID ACTION LAB?
A RAL is designed to support situations where rapid intervention is necessary.Diverse groups of actors are already embedded and actively intervening, or attempting to intervene in the system. These actors are generally moving or ready to go, but are often siloed and struggle to coordinate actions across organisations and social boundaries — an imperative given the urgency of the situation.
RAL CASE: SAFER THROUGH UNITY
In 2017 United Way of Metro Chicago convened a Rapid Action Lab focused on the question:
How can we work together to support children and families to be safe from violence and deportation in their neighbourhoods?
Over the course of four months, 45 diverse stakeholders worked together to produce ‘projects, programs and social initiatives in order to create safer neighbourhoods for families and their children’.
"The Rapid Action Lab showed us that a diverse group of actors can come together and quickly pull together to implement effective actions in a situation characterised by deep fear and uncertainty."
— Jose Rico / SVP of Community Impact, United Way of Metro Chicago