City innovation labs sharing lessons and shaping their identities

For years, innovation labs multiplied in companies, but then that energy was followed by a quieter period when prototypes proved hard to transfer to real-life projects. More recently, these kinds of labs have been popping-up in more and more cities, some in the wake of smart city projects, like Montréal’s Urban Innovation Lab. An interesting transformation from what was being done in companies, or even recently in cities, is their taking off a much broader—and likely much more useful—take on the term “innovation.”

Some people associate innovation with technological advances, while others associate it with taking more resident-focused or experimental approaches. [Emphasis mine.]

Basically, while working on projects dealing with similar issues and opportunities as they did before, these labs are flipping from a technology focus to a citizen focus. Roughly the same components, entirely different view point.

This post at Metropolis (a global network of major cities and metropolitan areas) shows how three new city innovation labs are sharing lessons—and shaping their identities. Following a gathering in 2019 regrouping stakeholders from all sectors, São Paulo, Montréal, and Montevideo joined in a pilot project that “brings together cohorts of urban practitioners from different continents to learn from each other.”

Sharing projects, lessons learned, approaches, the labs are helping each other in advancing their missions while “bringing residents into meaningful conversations with civil servants.”

It’s also noteworthy that the very dynamic Latin American ecosystem of varied models is proving a fruitful source of inspiration around the community of labs.

The exchanges have produced concrete learnings that the cities have already put to use. São Paulo was inspired by a project the Montevideo team had worked on exploring how residents felt about a public market in their neighbourhood. They did something similar in the neighbourhoods surrounding São Paulo’s network of “fab labs” in hopes of getting residents excited about taking advantage of opportunities to use the high-tech manufacturing spaces.