Monday Innovation Lab: Innovating step-by-step, while aiming for Utopia
When you think of innovation labs, you probably imagine a room of people figuring out the next groundbreaking app or tool. Monday Innovation Lab is taking innovation citywide.
Situated in Barcelona, the Monday Innovation Lab helps cities in Catalonia, small or large, to innovate and adapt to new challenges. Having only been active for 18 months, the Lab is still in its infancy, but it aims to address four key urban issues – youth unemployment, the elderly, the digital gender gap, and custom projects – in novel ways: “For me innovating is doing something different,” says Patricia Gonzalez Garcia, founder of Monday Innovation Lab. “With the aim to achieve different results.”
This belief is applied to rigid and sometimes difficult to maneuver local governments. The structure of Barcelona’s City Hall is not foreign to Gonzalez, having worked inside for eight years before realising innovation and the process, methodology and technology of innovation is needed everywhere.
Gonzalez works with governments that are keen to change, but may not quite have the right tools or skill set. They may not know how to connect effectively with citizens or how to utilise a new technology. That’s where she steps in:
“My mission is to help local governments that want to innovate; not help the people that don’t know that they have to innovate.”
Bespoke Team Building
The lab itself is just Gonzalez – she detects opportunities, starts projects and liaises with the city halls that want to innovate. Having honed her skills in Barcelona before taking them across the Atlantic to the US, Gonzalez has built up a wide network of contributors and potential collaborators.
After identifying a potential project there could be an ideation or co-creation session to try and define the issue and plan a course of action. Next, Gonzalez creates a team:
“I don’t have a permanent team because this would mean I always have to give the same solution to everybody. I connect to different people with different skills and create project-specific teams. I’m like a hub!”
But this lab isn’t just about quick fixes and short-term solutions: “We create a team with the aim that when we finish the project, the project will last.”
Innovating from a sentence
One such project built to last is “I’m Blogger” – a citizen journalism initiative for the elderly and retirees, born from an unlikely beginning:
“The deputy mayor said to the director of elderly people at Barcelona City Hall ‘I want the elderly to write on the facebook page of the municipality.’ That’s all,” remembers Gonzalez.
So how do you innovate and create from just 13 words? Gonzalez unpicked this single sentence to decide what could be done. As she realised this could be scaled up and taken further than simple interaction on Facebook, a few words from the deputy major turned into a full-fledged project for citizen journalism.
After an initial pilot with nine participants, Gonzalez decided they needed a physical space where the participants could interact and engage with each other:
“We are human and of course we are used to working with computers and our mobile phones every day, but we need the human touch. We need to go to a bar or a cafe to talk with people. This is where you really exchange ideas. Physical spaces are needed sometimes in the first stage. A place somewhere that is open all day, every day and where you can go and ask questions or ask someone how to do something. This mindset is promoted when you have a specific space for that.”
The project grew from the pilot into what it has become now, a communication and social network for the elderly in Barcelona. Gonzalez places a strong focus on having users involved at all stages of product development. This allows them to grow and develop in line with what the users want and need from the project:
“They are always giving us feedback and we are doing sessions to refine the prototype. We are changing the programme every time to engage more people. They like creating the programme for other people with us and to engage other people and so on and so on. I am really proud of this project.”
Aiming for Utopia
When it comes to projects, Gonzalez believes it’s important to keep a broader vision of what you’re creating and be aware of how it can really change the lives of citizens. She hopes to push the project further and create a real impact in the city:
“I want to see the community that have learned all these skills, experienced this process and then be really passionate for writing about their city. To move beyond what the deputy mayor asked. He gave us a direction, but we can grow a citizen movement that can give value to the city.”
And it doesn’t end there. Gonzalez always holds a vision for where the project should go: “You always have to have a Utopia because that’s your aim, that is your North and where you want to go. But you have to start with the first step.”
In this case the first step was the pilot, coming from 13 words and has become a network of citizen journalists, enriching a city and providing it a base upon which the elderly can create content.
Gonzalez hopes to take her skills and insights to other cities in the future, there’s currently a lot of growth in the industry within Catalonia but the aim is a bit further afield. Gonzalez is looking to build a core team around her, without diluting the quality of work or the vision she holds. When that becomes a reality, she hopes projects in both the US and Europe will become more accessible.
Journalism student at UCLan and intern on the Media Innovation Mapping project (summer 2018).