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Announcing ShiftLabs: A Community Design Lab on the Future of Work

Abigail Carlton - Former Managing Director, Economic Equity Opportunity
Rachel Korberg - Former Associate Director, Economic Equity Opportunity
Kristin Sharp - Director, Initiative on Work, Workers, and Technology, New America
Molly Kinder - Senior Advisor, Work, Workers and Technology, New America

Work is more than just a paycheck. It is the way we support our families and contribute to our communities. It is our primary vehicle for economic stability, opportunity, and upward mobility. And for many of us, it is how we spend the majority of our waking hours and is a source of purpose and pride.

Today, work as we know it is shifting — and rapidly. Jobs are no longer as clearly defined. Workers cannot expect to stay in one job or industry for 40 years; more people are proactively creating jobs for themselves, such as in the gig economy. Technology, automation, and artificial intelligence are driving some of these changes and will continue to profoundly change what it takes to earn a good living in the future — a recent McKinsey study found that 45% of job activities could be automated with existing technology.

At The Rockefeller Foundation and New America, we believe that technology is not just something that happens to us, but rather is a force that we shape and define as a society. Working people and communities can and should benefit from these exciting, technological changes — not just experience new and greater stresses as a result. The Rockefeller Foundation has a track record in partnering with business, government, and workers to leverage technology to open up more and better opportunities for struggling people, and New America has deep experience highlighting and sharing new ideas.

That’s why we have teamed up — also working closely with Arizona State University — to launch “ShiftLabs.” ShiftLabs is a design lab and pilot program that will work in partnership with communities across the country to help them diagnose how technology is changing work in their local and regional markets, learn from successful examples about how similar communities and workforces have adapted, and then design and experiment with new, innovative ways to help workers and businesses thrive amidst these shifts. It will build on insights from the 2016-2017 Shift Commission, a joint partnership between New America and Bloomberg that explored these issues nationally.

No one truly knows what works best when it comes to building vibrant, inclusive economies in this era of deepening automation and technological advancement. But we know that the answers can’t just come from research or ideas in Washington, New York City, and Silicon Valley. The answers are going to come from communities and working people who are striving to make a living in our changing economy every day.

That’s why ShiftLabs is an experiment in its own right. Beginning this spring in Phoenix and Indianapolis, we will deploy design thinking, data-driven analysis, community conversations, and social innovation competitions to map local trends, set priorities and incubate new ideas. Through design sessions, ShiftLabs participants will work together across sectors to identify the most important community priorities and pathways to achieve those goals.

But the work won’t stop there. Following the ShiftLab convenings, we will crowdsource solution ideas by launching social innovation competitions that reflect those local priorities, inviting community innovators and national partners to propose the best ways to ensure that workers thrive in our rapidly changing economy. Some of these ideas are going to fail, but what’s most important is that we question conventional wisdom and stand by those who have the courage to try new approaches. And as these local innovations are implemented, we will highlight, assess, support, and expand the most successful.

We invite you to stay connected with us by signing up here and to share your ideas and feedback.

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