Third meeting of the Sustainable Oceans Lab (SOL)

Third meeting of the Sustainable Oceans Lab (SOL)


Group picture of the SOL participants on Robben Island

Twenty-five participants from civil society, government and business communities came together in the third meeting of the Sustainable Oceans Lab (see here for the first meeting, and background; and for the second meeting). Representing diverse multi-stakeholder initiatives in 17 countries and 6 continents, the Lab team completed a one-year social lab for innovation and leadership, seeking sustainable development solutions to common challenges in the marine and coastal. This third meeting took place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 16th to 19th February.

In the course of the Sustainable Oceans Lab, Lab members both developed their capacity to effectively lead complex change initiatives and bring diverse and divergent interests of the oceans system into dialogue, and developed new solutions to collaboratively address global oceans management challenges.

The objectives of the last face-to-face meeting of the one-year Lab process were to

  • advance innovation and leadership capacities, in particular on multi-stakeholder work,
  • further develop the prototypes for increasing their impact,
  • further strengthen relationships and strategic partnerships, and
  • consolidate insights and lessons learned of the overall process.

Innovation and leadership capacities

In the course of the Sustainable Oceans Lab, the concept of prototypes as an action-oriented approach to test the new ideas, address challenges systemically and to foster innovation was one of the central themes. This means trying to come up with solutions that go beyond dealing with a part of the whole or symptoms and address the root cause of why things are not working in the first place.

In this meeting, the group reflected on the practical experiences the members gained by setting-up and implementing prototypes during the Lab process. They noticed the challenges, opportunities and enabling factors of innovation processes, and as a result advanced their innovation and leadership capacities individually and collectively.

The four prototyping teams that have been set-up during the Lab then met to consolidate, adapt and refine their strategies, and planned activities on their ongoing prototypes. All prototypes are linked to the participants’ organizations and initiatives, seeking to build on and improve them, and to address the following questions:

  • How to increase local resiliency of island communities? – The Kadavu prototype
  • EBSAs and how to mitigate impacts from industry? – The Sargasso Sea and Fiji Prototype
  • How to support the development and implementation of national IOM in international and regional contexts? – The Integrated Oceans Management (IOM) practitioners group
  • How to strengthen and model multi-stakeholder initiatives around complex small-scale fisheries management? The Kanan Kay Alliance and Future of Fish Prototype

Kanan Kay Alliance and Future of Fish, for instance, are working together to address the challenge on how to strengthen and model multi-stakeholder initiatives around complex small-scale fisheries management. The prototype is looking at whether the Kanan Kay Alliance could be a model for other multi-stakeholder alliances looking at community based oceans management and how lessons learnt might apply to other initiatives. Based on site visits, iterate research results and a design workshop at Kanan Kay Alliance Assembly, the implemented ideas and results are consolidated around this model and lessons learned are disseminated.

Lab members were impressed by how far the prototype work has taken some of the initiatives:

“All of them have grown an enormous amount. With ours: we started pretty specifically with Sargasso Sea and we were developing three prototypes within the Sargasso Sea. As it evolved, we saw utility in expanding it and making it more of a framework for adding other prototypes into the future. That’s the exciting thing that happened this week.”

 Refelction on Innovation 3rd SOL meeting Refelction on Innovation 3rd SOL meeting 2
Reflections on Innovation

Multi-stakeholder work

The Sustainable Oceans Lab was designed to strengthen multi-stakeholder work within and among regional multi-stakeholder initiatives. In order to sensitize and stimulate the group for complex multi-sectorial questions once more, the team experienced a learning journey to Robben Island. A learning journey is a physical, intellectual and emotional journey for the purpose of learning. It is an immersion in reality, an authentic experience, and opportunity to exercise our capacities of perceptions.

Robben Island was a perfect place. The combination of a guided tour to the maximum security prison by a former political prisoner, and to the natural aspects of the island by an environmental officer, showed the complexity of the social, historical, environmental, political and economic dimensions of this special cultural World Heritage Site.

Impressions from Robben Island 3rd SOL Meeting 2 Impressions from Robben Island 3rd SOL Meeting 1Impressions of Robben Island

Inspired by the people and nature of Robben Island, the group explored the dynamics of sectorial relationships using a Social Theatre / constellation exercise to deepen the awareness of ocean stakeholder’s roles and relations, and thus advanced leadership capacities and knowledge on multi-stakeholder work.

Social Theater on multi-stakeholder work 3rd SOL Meeting

Social Theatre on multi-stakeholder work

Consolidating the Lab

As the third meeting was the last one in the Lab process several sessions were dedicated to the consolidation of the Lab. Collectively, Lab members took stock of the learnings and results generated in the Lab, and found a high diversity, ranging from personal soft-skill development to multi-stakeholder communication and new strategic partnerships established.

Results in terms of knowledge, capacities, relationships and action 2)

Results in terms of knowledge, capacities, relationships and action

A number of members then presented key initiatives related directly to the Lab, e.g. the setting up of a digital monitoring system in Costa Rica, benefitting both local fishing communities and the national government through real time data providing better marketing opportunities and adaptive management information.

Finally, participants were asked to share their perspectives on the future focusing on the questions:

  • What would you personally look for in a next phase of the lab for it to meet your needs?
  • How do you think the broader oceans community could be served by the next phase of the lab?

Sharing future perspectives on SOL 3rd SOL meeting
Sharing future perspectives on SOL

After having created potential models of the future of the oceans Lab, it became clear that there is a strong need for further innovation and leadership labs in the ocean community, particularly with a view to strengthening multi-stakeholder collaboration, based on the needs of the ocean community.

Forum: “Integrated Oceans Management” – Bringing together Sectors and Stakeholders, for healthy Ocean and Sustainable Development ”

On the last day of the Lab, a Forum on Integrated Ocean Management (IOM) was organized at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), offering relevant stakeholders from Southern Africa the opportunity to engage with an experienced group of participants of the Sustainable Oceans Lab in a learning and innovation dialogue.

Together with 20 external participants from various sectors, the group was invited to share and reflect on different experiences on IOM from various countries.

The expert exchange among meeting participants was informed by four case studies, sharing experiences and approaches from the Benguela Current Commission, Gabon Bleu, the Mozambique Channel Initiative and the South African Operation Phakisa.

The results and main messages of the rich discussions are summarized and structured by members of the Lab´s IOM practitioners group and will be available on the Blue Solutions website.

 Impressions from the forum 3rd SOL meeting 3)Impressions from the forum 3rd SOL meeting 4)Impressions from the forum 3rd SOL meeting 5)Impressions from the forum 3rd SOL meeting 6)

Impressions from the forum

After the external participants left, the Lab team did a final checkout. The selected comments of the final closing circle are self-explanatory:

“I found this striking. I am grateful to have met all of you, as friends and as role models.”

“The entire learning process has been fabulous and personally transformational.”

“SOL has given me the rare opportunity to stop and think and be creative, which is very liberating.”

“I have enjoyed seeing the scope of projects narrowing down to something actionable and then how the cross-pollination is beginning to happen. The multi-stakeholder group is beginning to function.”

“Think globally, act locally”

“The ocean is not what divides us, it’s what unites us.”

Thank you for this unique journey!

For more information, please visit the website and/or contact Jan Kleine Büning ( or Christian Neumann (