Women as Innovators: Using innovation labs to address feminism issues. by @theflyways

by Hillary Strobel | Featured Contributor

Feminism is a wicked problem.

There are so many aspects of today’s women’s rights movement that need to be addressed, and it can seem like a real mess to figure out where to even begin. This is where innovation labs come in.

Women as Innovators: Using innovation labs to address feminism issues

What is a wicked problem? It’s a systemic issue with many interchangeable parts that often seems more complex after closer examination. The best way to deal with a wicked problem is to synthesize the input of stakeholders in ways that may not seem obvious at first.

Of course, now is the time to involve as many people as possible in the feminist movement, in order to breathe new life into its intentions and outcomes. It should seem obvious that more inclusiveness is in order, and the goals should be much broader.

The documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry speaks very eloquently about the power—and the problems—of the feminist movement of the 1960s. What will the documentaries 40 years from now be saying about this moment in time? Will they say that we gave up when the going got tough? Will they point out the ways that we couldn’t meet the challenges of complexity, or will they explore the ways that we absolutely rose to the occasion?

I prefer to think it’s the latter.

What’s the wicked solution?

In my opinion, the way to raise the bar is by implementing change via an innovation lab format. Let’s talk about innovation labs.

The Social Science Research Network defines an innovations lab as “a semi-autonomous organization that engages diverse participants—on a long-term basis—in open collaboration for the purpose of creating, elaborating, and prototyping radical solutions to pre-identified systemic challenges.”

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there are 10 defining features of innovation labs:

  1. Imposed but open-ended innovation themes
  2. Preoccupation with large innovation challenges
  3. Expectation of breakthrough solutions
  4. Heterogeneous participants
  5. Targeted collaboration
  6. Long-term perspectives
  7. Rich innovation toolbox
  8. Applied orientation
  9. Focus on experimentation
  10. Systemic thinking

My own angle for approaching feminism is in support of single mothers. This of course has personal meaning for me, as a single mom. In my opinion, empowering this group means empowering everyone. In order to radically increase the impact of our empowerment—socially, economically, and politically—my collaborators and I are engaging in the development of an innovation lab.

This varies in some ways from the feminists of the 1960s, who gathered around concerns such as the pill and the Equal Rights Amendment. Our current issues are no less insidious but are far more complex. Therefore, our approach to them must be as well.

Your Blueprints, Please

Our single mother innovation lab has a few key ingredients, which perhaps can serve as one type of roadmap.

The first is collaborators. We’ve been culling a lot of eager participants from around the world (although yours can be local, of course!) in a lot of different fields. Some are single mothers, some are well versed in legalities and politics, and some are experts in gathering and applying data and analytics. All of these skill sets come in handy in defining the problem and outlining solutions.

Another important ingredient is a workspace. This provides a platform for the crowdsourcing of ideas and a place to effectively co-work. This can be a physical space, obviously, or an online tool. We use Trello, which keeps effective track of many threads.

We’ve also taken many courses in design thinking, human-centered design, and systems thinking. These give us the foundation for approaching problems with empathy and compassion as well as structure. There are plenty to choose from online. We like design courses from IDEO.org and systems classes from +Acumen.

I encourage all of us to explore the innovation space in addressing the complex issues facing feminists today. We must rise to the newest challenges and rise effectively.


Hillary StrobelHillary Strobel is a single mother, fierce learner and teacher, ardent lover of life, and the ass-kickin’ President and CEO of The Flyways, Inc. We publish story projects that are interactive and highly creative, and 25% of profits are donated to support social justice causes: from business incubators serving vulnerable women, to agencies working to reduce recidivism rates.

Hillary also runs a consultancy for businesses and organizations seeking to meaningfully build social impact programs from the ground up. The three pillars that support this mission are: designing outcomes and developing goals, measuring impact and creating a universal metric, and quantifying results to the public.

After a long and varied career in just about every kind of Liberal Arts field imaginable, and in every type of job — volunteer, employee, entrepreneur, non-profit worker, and freelancer — Hillary has decided to marry her two deepest passions: storytelling and social justice. The results have surpassed her wildest expectations.

Follow Hillary on Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Medium

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