Posted 10 July, 2015 by Zara Rahman

What’s in a name? (most likely a “lab” or a “hub”…)

"What's in a name?"

“What’s in a name?” (Credit: Jack Dorsey)

Project names matter. They give the very first impression to newcomers, and give an indication of what or how a topic will be approached. As part of my work over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for inspiration for naming a couple of new projects, and I’ve noticed a couple of trends.

Namely: labs. Labs are everywhere! This working paper from the University of Oxford, “Transforming humanitarian practice in the United Nations” outlines excellently the spread of ‘innovation labs’ across United Nations (UN) bodies. To give a hint of how many there currently are, here’s a few just in UN agencies right now:

  • UNICEF’s Innovation Labs (first set up in 2010 in Kosovo – now there are 14 across the world)
  • UNHCR Innovation Unit
  • UN Global Pulse Labs
  • UNDP Public Service Innovation Lab

Among other fascinating conclusions, the authors of the paper above find that the work that goes on in various UN ‘labs’ often doesn’t get transferred back to their ‘parent’ agency. Ideally, those working in ‘labs’ aren’t subject to the same bureaucratic procedures as their counterparts, which helps their experimental and innovative work, but they need flexible funding in order to do this. They also note that perhaps ‘innovation lab’ could be used as a strategic label, to generate interest and, potentially, funds.

So, it seems that ‘lab’ is primarily used to label physical spaces of innovation – but, these can also be referred to as ‘hubs’. iHub Research, based in Kenya, have an excellent report on the spread of innovation hubs across Africa, where they took a critical look at 7 hubs across the continent- and discovered that they “come in different flavours:  Hubs, labs, libraries, hackerspaces, makerspaces, telecentres, coworking spaces.”

But I’ve not been looking to name a physical innovation space – my aim was to find a label or indicator for an online space for sharing resources, publications, and learnings. Wanting to label an online space is, I discovered, hard.

  • “area”: too literal
  • “sector”: ditto
  • “field”: too many meanings – field of study, field of work, field…like an actual field?

Which led me to… ‘zone’. It’s an area, with resources, online. For me at least, it doesn’t quite evoke a physical space, which is what I’m looking for, but it does indicate that certain things will be placed “within” this zone.

So – watch this space, for a new, soon-to-be-launched, ‘zone’! More details soon.

Further reference:
Labcraft: how innovation labs cultivate change! – book publication outlining experiences and practices of 12 social innovation labs around the world

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