An Ideas Lab is an intensive, interactive workshop designed to produce radically innovative research proposals. Participants from a diverse range of disciplines come together in a creative, free-thinking environment – away from their every day routines and responsibilities – and immerse themselves deeply in a collaborative process around an important challenge.

Sounds like a Sandpit? It is.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has adapted the Sandpit methodology, only they’re calling the event an Ideas Lab. The format is nearly identical, but customized to suit the needs of the NSF. For instance, at a Sandpit, the funding decisions are usually made on the last day and announced to the participants before they leave the event. An Ideas Lab allows for the funding team to incubate over the weekend and the funded project teams get notified the following week. If the difference is so minimal, then why the name change? Sandpit doesn’t quite translate across the Atlantic, so Ideas Lab it is.

The event itself is a 5-day residential program with 20 to 30 participants from different disciplines and universities. The group works to deepen their shared understanding of the designated challenge, to redefine the problems within the challenge and to generate novel ideas for research proposals. The outcome: multi-disciplinary research that’s risky, cutting edge and unlikely to get funded through another source.