Step 5

Taking Action: Integration, Collaboration, Innovation

The essence of a lab is to bring diverse people together (integrate), get them to work together (collaborate) and find new approaches (innovate). Being able to do this effectively is crucial to building an inclusive SDG inspired initiative.

In this short video, Kali Taylor shares her insights on her experience during the early days of starting the SDG Lab in Geneva.

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How can you practically drive integration, collaboration and innovation for the SDGs? How can you ‘walk the talk’ in practice?


We'll never find sustainable solutions if we only look at a given issue through the most obvious lens. So it’s vital to bring together diverse people to help construct integrated solutions.

You may need to start small – even with a group of two or three people, who understand what you’re talking about, and what the end goal is – and who are also ready to be pioneers. So you need to identify these people, and focus on creating that first small group – which can then quickly grow.
The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue – there are broad implications across all facets of society. For example, if a coal mining factory closes, what happens to the workers and their families? Alternatively, how are communities affected by changing weather patterns that lead to drought and increased migration?

Here, a new lab focused on climate change decides to bring together sustainability experts with employment experts.


Once you have gathered a small group of people, co-create together to ensure you’re building inclusive and accessible solutions. Try to organize in a way that makes all actors feel that they're co-creating a community with you. It should be a forward-looking group which everyone feels they can build-on, and which fits their needs too.

To collaborate effectively, everyone needs to be ready to step out of their comfort zone. For this to happen, people need to be open minded about entering areas they may not have thought of before, or didn't even know existed.
A climate-focused lab gathers feedback to identify common denominators that their collaborators will want to work on.
Remember that building partnerships and collaborations takes a lot of effort. Such relationships are fragile, and once they are established it takes a lot of effort to keep them alive. In practice, many collaborations fail, as organisations don’t invest in them sufficiently.

This is a piece of the puzzle that is often missing in many organisations. They take it for granted that if a collaboration starts well in the beginning, then it will take off on its own: in practice, this is unlikely to happen.


The best way to start is by scoping a problem your community has which would bring a diverse group of people together, rather than attempting to ‘innovate’ immediately.

So don't start with innovation as the explicit goal. Instead, start with the challenge or opportunity. However, just bringing a selection of random people together is not a good recipe for innovation either. They need to have a commonality between them, otherwise it will be a frustrating experience, and any ideas that are produced will be hard to take forward on a tangible basis.

Innovation and collaboration need to work together. They should advance an individual actor's objectives, as well as the broader aims you’re supporting.
A climate-focused lab might have a series of meetings to clarify the real needs of stakeholders in the local area, before explicitly looking to build new SDG-related solutions.
Once ideas are generated, focus on how to move forward with those. Sustained innovation won’t happen without an active convenor pushing it along, moving good ideas through a series of next steps.
It may be beneficial to focus on ideas where you feel the largest numbers of people in the community have a vested interest in moving things forward – whether or not these ideas are the ones you like the most. These are the ‘low-hanging fruit’. You can then nudge people to engage with these ideas on an ongoing basis.
There can sometimes be challenges when it comes to working with the paradigms in practice. People may not be incentivised to collaborate – as they may not have the bandwidth. It can also be tough to integrate different sectors if there is no meeting space, or anyone to convene them.
Innovation can also be challenging – for example if you are a larger organisation with established ways of doing things.

In this short video, SDG Lab Director Nadia Isler shares her experience building the Sustainable Finance Collaboration in the Geneva Ecosystem.

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What approaches to integration, collaboration and innovation might also work for you?

Set up your first official public meetings:

  • Do you have multiple sectors represented?
  • Do you have diversity in your meetings?
  • Do you have an interesting meeting plan/ways/tools? 
  • Can you try things to help people think outside the box?

Now go to the ‘Taking Action’ section of your Blueprint document and add some notes. As you do, consider these prompts:

What is the work plan? 

Is the budget reasonable? Have we spoken to other organizations about their first year operating? 
What resources are missing? Are there people in our community who can help us get them? 
Have we identified key partnerships? Are these people in our network? If not, does someone in our network know them? 
Are we making things too complicated? What are things that can be done simply and at low-cost? 
What is the main milestone and objective we want to reach by the end of year one? 

Please consult these links and additional resources to learn more:

  • We were inspired by a book called ‘Sprint’ by Jake Knapp, where he describes how innovation sprints were used to solve challenges. We modified the key principles of this book to fit our situation and timeline
  • If you’re looking for an academic paper covering these issues, we recommend this one
We’re always interested in benefitting from the experiences of others. If you have any case studies or other learnings you would like to pass on to us, please send them to SDG Lab Geneva.