Social labs as an inclusive methodology to implement and study social change: the case of responsible research and innovation

Job Timmermans*, Vincent Blok, Robert Braun, Renate Wesselink, Rasmus Øjvind Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The embedding and promotion of social change is faced with a paradoxical challenge. In order to mainstream an approach to social change such as responsible research and innovation (RRI) and make it into a practical reality rather than an abstract ideal, we need to have conceptual clarity and empirical evidence. But, in order to be able to gather empirical evidence, we have to presuppose that the approach already exists in practice. This paper proposes a social lab methodology that is suited to deal with this circularity. The methodology combines the defining features of social labs emerging from the literature such as agility and real-world focus with established theories and approaches such as action research and experiential learning. Thereby it enables the parallel investigation and propagation of RRI. The framework thus constructed provides a theoretical embedding of social labs and overcomes some of the known limitations of the constitutive approaches.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Responsible Innovation
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)410-426
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by H2020 Science with and for Society: [Grant Number 788047].


  • emerging social phenomena
  • hermeneutics
  • research methodology
  • Responsible innovation
  • social lab

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