We're often asked: what makes your approach different from Ideo or MindLab or Reos Partners or [insert your favorite lab here]?

We all use similar enough words. Like co-creation and prototyping. We all use similar enough processes. Do research > Extract insights > Brainstorm ideas. We all draw on creative thinking and design.

But beneath our rhetoric and our process diagrams, there are some different values and some different assumptions.

Here's a synopsis of how we think about the 'who' 'what' 'where' 'how' 'why' and 'so what' of change. Our Hunch Book describes these assumptions in more detail.

Who?

We think change has to be owned by every day people experiencing the challenge. Not by professionals and system stakeholders. Though they must also be part of the solutions.

Different than Mindlab. Mindlab starts with a brief from government, and brings civil servants together to explore the challenge. People are viewed as end users. Not as owners of the solutions.

What?

We make multiple interventions with and for multiple user groups. Like peer-to-peer networks, new professional roles, and revised policies. Some interventions lie inside systems. And some lie outside - with the subversive goal of dismantling what's getting in the way. With each intervention, we test the mechanisms for change to try and understand what creates change and for whom?

Different than Ideo. Ideo makes marketing campaigns, new products, and service offers. They tend to test whether their solutions are attractive to end users and acceptable to the paying clients - who may be commercial organizations, government agencies, or foundations.

Where?

We believe good ideas for interventions come from understanding people's real behaviors, in context. And actively finding the 'positive deviants' who already have their own work-arounds to the challenges at hand.

Different than Reos Partners. Reos Partners puts together multi-stakeholder coalitions, that they call Change Labs. Stakeholders convene in workshop spaces and engage in dialogue & reflection. There are no mechanisms for engaging the unusual suspects, finding the positive deviants, or observing the disconnects between what people say and do in their real, every day contexts.

When?

We believe it's best to start small, and test the waters for longer-term change. Longer-term change requires a multi-year commitment, shepherded by a local team with rigorous methods and metrics. Not simply a group of external consultants.

Similar to Collective Impact. Collective Impact movements are supported by local teams and local data. They facilitate a range of activities, connected by a common theory of change.

How?

We frame challenges in terms of people & place. We use deep ethnographic methods, and build relationships with people in their homes and neighborhoods. This takes weeks. Not hours. We apply a range of lenses to what we're seeing - taken from social psychology, behavioral economics, feminist studies, philosophy, and history. We debate outcomes. We make live prototypes. And we measure what's changing. We finance all of this work by investing our own resources upfront, and bringing multiple partners together along the way to contribute.

Different than Public Policy Lab. Public Policy Lab frames challenges in terms of government systems and processes, and uses quick interviews & workshops to unearth insights. They tend to deliver recommendations to one government agency, rather than multiple live prototypes with measurable results. 

Why?

We believe that the point of change is to improve people's lives and reduce outcome inequalities. We do not think the point of change is to create a more innovative public sector or more user-centered services. Innovative and user-centered are not necessarily proxies for good. We've seen plenty of innovative services that worsened outcomes for those most on the margins.

Different than La 27th Region. 27th Region up-skills civil servants in co-design methods. Their goal is a better functioning public service. For us, a better functioning public service is one means to some bigger ends. And we don't think you can define a better functioning public service unless you are clear on what those ends are first.

​ So What?

We believe that's it OK to re-invent the wheel. If the re-invention process shifts people's thinking and behaviors. So rather than replicate solutions, we replicate processes.

Different than Participle. Participle works to scale the branded solutions they have created, and has a direct organizational stake in those solutions.