What is U.Lab?

Do you want to make some kind of change, big or small, in the world?  Are you ready to develop aspects of yourself in order to do it?  To suspend judgment and cynicism and see what might emerge from being guided through a highly experiential learning process?

If you answer yes to all of these, then U.Lab might be for you.

U.Lab Global pic

U.Lab is a new learning experience that blends a global, online learning platform (called a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course) with real-life “meet ups” in small coaching groups and larger Hubs.

Some of the main premises are that:

  • in a complex, rapidly changing world, we need to learn from what is emerging rather than relying on what we’ve done in the past,
  • Globally, we are collectively producing results no one wants – e.g. increasing inequalities – and this is exacerbated by leadership practices that can focus on what’s best for the few (ego-system) rather than the wellbeing of all (eco-system), and
  • that you can’t make a change without also changing yourself.

The first ever U.Lab took place in January this year and over 28,000 participants from across the world participated.  It is being offered again in Sept 2015 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), free of charge, and open to anyone with internet access.  The online part consists of videos, some reading, and a small number of live sessions connecting the whole U.Lab community.  The Hubs are self-organising according to the needs and interests of its participants and provide a space and support to practice what you learn online.  They may involve friends, colleagues or peers coming together in a living room, meeting room or community centre.  They may be focused on a specific area or interest.  Overall, it is a very flexible structure.  U.Lab provides the material and guidance, you decide on the shape and intention of your own hub and provide the issue you want to work on (whether that’s individually or collectively).

Throughout the eight weeks of the course, you will experience an approach or framework that invites you to go through a deeper process than just having an idea for change and leaping straight into action.  It first asks you to come with a question and an open mind, rather than a fully formed answer, to work through that question with a group of people who represent the system you are trying to influence, and then to listen deeply and be open to what you hear.  The next stage is to then reflect on what you hear and your part in it.  Then, you take a small idea that come out of the conversations and trial or prototype it.

A lot of this may seem familiar – it has elements of co-production, asset-based approaches, improvement science and design-thinking, mindfulness, dialogue etc.  But for me, that’s where its strength is.  Taking part in the first U.Lab, helped me clear a path through my cluttered understanding of how to make change happen and gave me a framework to hang a lot of the concepts, tools and techniques I already know about and have experience with, as well as some new ones, in order to improve my chances of success.

In the case of my own Hub back in January, we came together from the Scottish Government, local government, Joint Improvement Team and community sector, through a simple common interest of seeing what this U.Lab thing was all about.  We had a profound experience that we felt fitted particularly well with where the people of Scotland are at the moment – showing a flourishing interest in participating in making change happen to improve our country for the benefit of everyone.

So, working with the U.Lab Global Team, we have been supporting the formation of a community or movement around U.Lab in Scotland (which we’re calling U.Lab Scotland).  We’re doing that through:

  • holding some events, with the last one happening on 1 Sept, focused on supporting the formation of hubs
  • supporting online discussions through Facebook, Twitter and now this blog and answering questions by email if you’d prefer (contacts will be put up shortly)
  • providing some light extra material to set U.Lab in a Scottish context
  • looking at ways we can support hub hosts (people who convene the meet ups) in the lead up, during and after U.Lab runs in Sept, and
  • capturing our learning as we go through things like this blog.

If U.Lab sounds like it might be for you, take a look at our resources page for details on all of the above, and the links to register for U.Lab and U.Lab Scotland.  Also feel free to post a comment or question below and sign up to receive updates!

We hope that this blog will be useful for, and feel owned by, the U.Lab Scotland community as a way of communicating all the activity that’s going on and to share learning with each other.  Get in touch if you’d like to write a blog post (or a series of them!) or feel you have the time to be one of our editors.

To the journey ahead together!



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