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Systemic innovation labs: a lab for wicked problems

Sharon Zivkovic (University of South Australia, Mawson Lakes, Australia)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 15 August 2018

Issue publication date: 31 August 2018




The purpose of this paper is to question the appropriateness of current lab types for addressing wicked problems. A new lab type, a Systemic Innovation Lab, is proposed which combines the features of existing labs that are suited to addressing wicked problems.


Characteristics of initiatives that are considered appropriate for addressing wicked problems and existing lab types that contain any of these characteristics are identified. These lab types are Social Innovation Labs, Living Labs, Urban Living Labs, Urban Transition Labs and Public Sector Innovation Labs. The proposed new lab type is reasoned by combining the features of existing labs that are suited to addressing wicked problems. How the new lab would work in practice is illustrated with a case study.


When addressing wicked problems, labs need to take a systemic design and not a service design approach. They also need to focus on addressing complex problems, take a place-based and transition approach, enable coherent action by diverse actors, involve users as co-creators, support a networked governance approach and recognize government as an enabler of change.

Practical implications

This paper provides a new lab type designed specifically for addressing wicked problems. This new lab supports practitioners that take a systemic design, solution ecosystem and systemic innovation approach. Systemic design is based on a core set of principles that are a crossover between design and complexity theory.


For the first time, this paper analyzes different lab types to determine their appropriateness for addressing wicked problems. It also proposes a new lab type whose sole purpose is addressing wicked problems.



Zivkovic, S. (2018), "Systemic innovation labs: a lab for wicked problems", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 348-366.



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