“I believe UNICEF’s most important contribution has been innovation. Technical innovation, of course, but also innovation in how we think about development.”

What is an Innovation Lab?

A lab is a space and set of protocols for engaging young people, technologists, private sector, and civil society in problem-solving.

This involves: Innovation In Programmes, Products, Process, and Partnership.

Who Might Need a Lab?

An innovation lab can be useful for UNICEF Country Offices looking to branch out in their research and innovation-driven ventures, and for finding new ways of alleviating tough problems.

An Innovation Lab Has Value Because:

  1. 1 It represents a new method for developing solutions.
  2. 2 Greater diversity of skill means greater possibility.
  3. 3 It encourages a collaborative physical environment.
  4. 4 It progressively builds local development.

The Partners of a Lab

The partners of a lab includes: Government, Academia, NGOs, Private Sector, Young People, and the UNICEF Lab Network


Key Principles

The following are the guiding principles that inform all of UNICEF’s innovation work.

  • User-Centered
  • Built on Experience
  • Sustainable
  • Open & Inclusive
  • Scalable

Types of Research

UNICEF has split their respective areas of developmental research into three general disciplines.

  • Product & Service Development
  • Community Engagement
  • Operational Research

Who Makes Up the Lab Network?

The recent emergence of UNICEF Innovation Labs have made significant headway in their respective research directions.

“The first challenge is to re-purpose technology that the private sector is developing and apply it to our own purposes. The second challenge is to take these innovations to scale.”

Launch a Lab Inquiry

Identify the UNICEF Country Office focal point and collaborate with internal stakeholders.

Perform a Scoping Mission

A scoping mission is research that identifies the feasability and opportunities at hand for a potential new lab.

Narrow a Lab’s Focus Area

A lab’s focus should be based upon a Country Office’s established expertise, stakeholder support, and a pressing societal bottleneck.

Hire a Lab Lead

The lab lead oversees the overall day-to-day operation and lab activities.

Refine a Lab Concept Note

A concept note is the statement of a lab’s defining focus at its outset. The document describes the research performed and justifies the direction chosen.

Select and Launch a Pilot Project

A pilot project needs to have a clear objective, and should employ a concrete strategy for achieving it.

“We need to consider more universal goals, and focus on finding the most effective — and the most cost-effective — ways to reach the children in greatest need.”

Going from a Pilot to a Lab

A successful innovation lab involves an organizational culture that supports innovation. This may require an openness to change in procedural and problem-solving approaches.

Lab Staff and Secondment Options

A lab often begins as a very small enterprise, and may add secondments as needs arise.

  • Lab Lead
  • Project Officer
  • Designer
  • Hardware Developer
  • Software Developer
  • Administrative Assistant

Country Office Support

Personnel and consulting resources can also be contributed by the Country Office in support of the lab.

  • Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
  • Communication Officer
  • Administrative Officer

Lab Budget

The budget plan needs to be drawn up so that the lab spends resources as efficiently as possible.

  • Staff
  • Equipment
  • Physical Space
  • Project Expenditures

Space Management

In order to maximise flexibility, engineer the lab floorplan so that it can accommodate multiple uses.

Activities List

The list of activities that a lab can host is long, and can grow as the lab develops and diversifies its capabilities.

Sample of the more common events involves: Prototyping Session, Workshop Event, Communication Strategies, Hosting Academia, Skills Training, Reviews, Content Production, and Brainstorming Sessions.

“In all that we do, we must also do a better job monitoring our progress, so we can learn from our successes and setbacks, and identify new obstacles that stand in our way.”

Outreach and Training

Labs emphasizing Youth Outreach provide a setting where youth can take initiative, propose their own ideas, and have more productive agency in their society.

Product Development

Product Development is where a physical product is designed and produced in the cause of Innovation for Development.

Service Development

Services developed by labs cross boundaries of theme and discipline: and often the same “service” can provide new ways of doing business to colleagues across the office.

Operational Research

Operational research analyses the way a particular development programme is operated and provides solutions to streamline, improve, or augment the existing process.

Broadcasting Content

Broadcasting information can be valuable to the community, whether it be to disseminate educational content for youth or to broadcast useful information relating to health or crisis response/prevention.

Innovations Lab Kosovo


Innovations Lab Kosovo encourages the positive civic participation and professional development of youth though innovative project designs.

Uganda Innovation Lab


The Uganda Innovation Lab is a physical prototyping workshop, a RapidSMS service development hub, a place for hosting skills workshops, and a venue for greater co-creation between UNICEF and community.

CCORE Zimbabwe

CCORE Zimbabwe began from the recognition of a need for a research lab dedicated to information and data; specifically regarding the collection, dissemination, analysis, and management as it relates to improving the conditions of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable.

Copenhagen Innovation Lab


Copenhagen’s central location to much of Europe, and UNICEF’s Supply Division partners, help make the lab a meeting space for sharing knowledge and developing solutions together.

iHub Malagasy & UNICEF


iHub Malagasy is a good example of a local NGO contracting with and helping to support the mission of a UNICEF Country Office while maintaining their operational autonomy.

Submit Your Own Lab

Plans and preparations are presently underway for several more innovation labs, originating from Country Offices and UNICEF collaborators across the globe. We invite you to submit your lab structures, your documents and your knowledge to the project so that future versions can grow, learn, and build.