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How To Address Complex Challenges



How To Address Complex Challenges


A course for leaders and influencers

“Despite working in philanthropy for over two decades, participating in the Masterclass opened a new window on effective strategy for me. We have since supported all our staff and two hundred of our grantees to participate in Masterclasses.”

— Daniel Ash / Chicago Community Trust

Complexity is on the rise, and business as usual strategies no longer cut the mustard. Our approach enables organisations to address big challenges such as poverty, ethnic conflict, and climate change in a more fluid, adaptive and effective way. Through our work we generate real-world on-the-ground impact, and not just more glossy reports. 

In this course we'll teach you our ways, and you'll learn how to develop powerful and innovative strategic responses to complex challenges through social labs.

Social Labs?

Social labs can be thought of as strategies. In the same way a science lab will bring together teams of scientists to work on a technical problem, social labs bring together diverse groups of stakeholders to develop prototype solutions to social challenges. These solutions are tested in the real world, refined, and tested again. Social labs represent a powerful, innovative and strategic response to complex social challenges. They are a proven effective response to generate real-world results and achieve impact beyond your funders' wildest dreams. 

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Ok, tell me more about the course...

Over three days you will deepen your understanding of both the strategic and the tactical aspects of setting up social labs. This will include framing the business case for labs, setting the challenge, the relationship of scale to the overall strategy of the lab, practical details on the design of social labs, what a “Minimal Viable Social Lab” looks like, and more.

At the end of three days, you will leave with a clear idea of what it takes to design a social lab and how to go about this task. The course will consist of a combination of small group and plenary work, with many opportunities for peer learning. You will work in small groups to apply learning to real-world cases.

The course consists of six half-day modules. Four of these modules are focused on the real-world case, resulting in participants learning how to design a social lab around their challenge. The goals of the course are:

  • Participants acquire practical skills and knowledge required to design social labs

  • Participants gain experience of the application of the labs approach to a real-world challenge

  • Participants leave with an understanding of how to make the business case for social labs

This is a foundational course. The approach is to support participants to internalize a number of core concepts that provide a foundation for using various techniques in the context of complex social challenges.

Day 1

Case Study - Looking at a third generation Lab

Looking at real-world case studies to see what recent practice looks like and how it can be improved. See here for an overview of third vs fourth generation labs.


Provides a primer on how business as usual practices inform the current approach to strategy and the cost implications of this for identifying successful strategy in complex systems. What is good strategy and what is bad strategy? What are the elements of good strategy? How do we work with risk?

Day 2

Preconditions for Success

Each participant learns about the preconditions for a successful lab through applying a real-world challenge. Working in teams, you’ll be provided with an example lab to determine the preconditions for success. Participants are taught how to build a business case from preconditions. This business case can serve as a basis for a pitch to lab partners, convenors, and funders.

Lab Design pt1 - The Stacks

Teams get into the nuts and bolts of designing a next-generation social lab - with a focus on Innovation, Capacity Building, Information, and Governance.

Day 3

Lab Design pt2 - Innovation Process

Teams focus on designing innovation processes, including practical examples and coaching on specific approaches to each teams’ example lab.

ACHIEVING Strategic Depth & Scale - Looking at fourth generation Labs

Looking at the next generation of practice and where labs go from here.

Learning Summary

You’ll learn about:

  • An in-depth explanation of what social labs are

  • How to get a social lab off the ground

  • How to make the business case for social labs

  • How to put in place the preconditions for success

  • How to correctly frame the challenge you want to address

  • How best to constitute a lab team

  • What core capacities or “muscles” are required to run a lab

  • How to design a lab process

  • What a “minimum viable” social lab looks like

  • How to design a lab for multiple scales (from mini-labs to mega-labs)

  • How to create the right structures to support your lab

  • An understanding of the most common errors in setting up a lab





LocatioN & Registration

How To Address Complex Challenges is a three day course. We are offering the course in Sweden only in 2019, please see below for details and registration.


Dates: 21-23 August 2019

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Price: EUR€1,500*. Price is inclusive of VAT and taxes. Does not include accommodation (this is not a residential course).

*There is an earlybird price of €1,000, which is available if you register and make payment before the 15th April 2019.






What is Complexity University?

Complexity University provides teams with practical, hands-on support for learning how to tackle complex social challenges.

The heart of Complexity U rests on a 20-year practice based on social labs. Just as we have scientific and technical labs to address scientific and technical problems, social labs are designed for addressing complex social challenges.

As our challenges grow in scale and difficulty, the absence of people with real mastery at addressing these challenges is our Achilles heel. Complexity U is designed to rapidly build widespread capabilities amongst teams for devising effective responses to complex challenges.

The course is taught by Zaid Hassan.

Zaid is a strategist, author of the bestselling book, The Social Labs Revolution (Berret-Koehler, 2014), and facilitator with over fifteen years of experience in developing strategic responses to complex social challenges His clients have included the World Bank, The UN Foundation, Oxfam, WWF, various governments, and many more. Zaid grew up in Bombay, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi and London. He regularly teaches courses on how to address complex challenges. He is a Visiting Professor at the California College of Arts (CCA) where he helps teach a social lab on a graduate level Masters programme. He has guest lectured at The University of Oxford, The University of Bergen, Norway, The New School in New York and many more institutions. Over 2009-10 he was an Associate Fellow of The Institute of Science, Innovation and Society, at the Said Business School. He is currently a Social Innovation Fellow at Babson College. Zaid is the CEO & Co-founder of Roller Strategies.

“The best part of the course for me was to be able to listen to a very experienced practitioner and theorist of the social lab field and understand a bit be er the day-by-day activities, the patterns and challenges of the work itself. The fact that we had to practice the learning in a real project was truly amazing as well. I put my idea in the centre and it was very rich to see people from around the world collaborating into creating something valuable that could be actually implemented. The course gave me tools to not leave any important issue out when designing and running participatory processes for impactful innovation.”

— Ana Carol Rodrigues