The Evolutionary Learning Laboratory

A Better Way to Analyse and Overcome Complex Problems

If we are to grow as a society and address the complex challenges, which are increasingly characterised by uncertainty, ambiguity and competing stakeholder expectations, we need our leaders and key decision makers to be equipped with new and innovative tools and capacities and our institutional frameworks to be increasingly dynamic and transparent – the goal of ELLabs.

Learning to think and act systemically is of significant importance to help companies, organisations, individuals, achieve their goals and directly benefit the economic, environmental and social responsibilities of local and central governments, organisations, business institutions and society in general. This is what the systems-based ELLab has been developed for – an ongoing cyclic process for evolving innovations, continuous co-learning and refinement of the innovative systems tools embedded in the ELLab for dealing with complex issues. The application of ELLabs further enables organisations/government departments/companies/NGOs/etc to achieve innovative ways for:

  • developing and improving mutual understanding of the diverse mental models of different stakeholders
  • empowering all stakeholders involved to be engaged in a connected journey to achieve accelerated outcomes
  • designing strategies and pathways to move away from traditional linear thinking that leads to quick fixes and treating the symptoms, to long lasting systemic solutions
  • interacting efficiently to collaboratively identify leverage points and systemic interventions to develop systems based strategic and operational plans that will address the root causes of issues
  • developing a deep understanding of the interconnectedness between recommendations in order to develop efficient and cost-effective strategic and operational plans
  • acquiring  a working knowledge of cutting edge systems tools to test the outcomes of strategies, including the identification of unintended consequences – before actual implementation

The ELLab is a process, as well as a setting, in which a diverse group of participants engage in a cyclical process of thinking, planning, action and reflection for collective learning towards a common good.

Evolutionary Learning Labs Cycle

Its key elements are that the stakeholders in a problem tackle real tasks and issues, learn with and from one another about the issues, take responsibility and support one another in their decision making and actually implement the solutions and plans after much reflection. Drawing on this idea, the ELLabs consist of a unique seven step iterative process (see Figure) of thinking and acting in which the participants engage in well-defined activities, creating a systemic framework and environment where policy makers, managers, local facilitators, members of the community and researchers collaborate and learn together in an ‘experiential  laboratory’ – to understand and address complex multidimensional and multi-stakeholder problems of common interest in a systemic way. The ultimate goal is to achieve coherent actions directed towards sustainable outcomes.

Evolutionary Learning Labs Ghana

  • The success of the ELLab approach has led to a Bill & Melinda Gates award for establishing ELLabs for Labour Saving innovations for women in agriculture in South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The successful establishment of the Cat Ba ELLab has led to various lessons learned that spilled over to the Haiphong Province government in Vietnam.
  • The success of the Haiphong model for integrated systemic governance has led to invitations from Hanoi and Danang to help their Governments to establish similar ELLabs.
  • VUSTA (Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations) has established the Centre for Thinking Science (CTS). Professor Ockie Bosch and Dr Nam Nguyen are currently working with CTS to develop a national project on the enhancement of systems science in Vietnam.

Evolutionary Learning Labs Training Haiphong

“For environmentally sustainable and responsible tourism development in the context of Cambodia – the systems thinking approach is a magnificently responsive and excellent tool. This approach can be applied in various fields and sectors scientifically, logically and practically.” H.E. Dr. Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism (Cambodia)

“A systems approach is an elegant way to address multiple dimensions of sustainable development planning and practice in biosphere reserves. The learning laboratory initiative in Cat Ba (Vietnam) isolated capacity for integrated planning as the major ‘missing link’ to meet the multiple use objectives of that biosphere reserve and have given better focus to planning follow-up projects” Dr. Ishwaran Natajaran, Former Director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, General Secretary of the Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO Paris)

“The learning laboratory for sustainability initiative and its systems thinking approach are of significant importance for the sustainable development of Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve, Hai Phong City, Vietnam” Dr. Nguyen Van Thanh, Member of the Central Communist Party, Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of Peoples’ Council of Haiphong (Vietnam)

“The learning laboratory being built in Nen River Basin, Northern East of China is of great importance to the sustainable utilization of water resources, environmental protection, as well as improving livelihood of people in this region”. Dr. Hong Wang, Deputy Director of Songliao Bureau of Water Resources Protection, Songliao Commission of Water Resources, Ministry of Water Resources (PR China)

Systems Design and Complexity Management at the University of Adelaide, Australia
International Conference on System Sciences ISSS Haiphong 2013 (Governmental Website)
The successful application of this systems tool in many countries has led to its refinement and development of a web-based system tool Think2Impact©

Evolutionary Learning Labs Future