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The Mind Lab


“The Mind Lab” is a collaborative idea generation method used by undergraduate students taking part in the ‘Idea Translation Lab’ Elective module at Trinity College Dublin. The Mind Lab is a series of short workshops that allow students to work collaboratively in order to generate initial ideas for their end of year project and act as an introduction to collaborative working. 


Name: The Mind Lab

Partner organization: Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Authors: Grace Darcy, Brendan Owens, Shaun Ussher 

Aims: The Mind Lab Method aims to introduce students to collaboratively working with students from diverse backgrounds in a supportive and equitable way. 

Time: Four hours in total, comprising two two-hour workshops. 

Original Context: The Mind Lab  is a series of  workshops provided to 3rd year undergraduate students as part of a Trinity College Dublin elective module Idea Translation Lab delivered by Science Gallery Dublin. ‘The Mind Lab’ workshop was provided to the students as an introduction to their project work, and is designed to promote dialogue and provide students with methods of ideation. 

Group: Undergraduate students 

Resources needed: Templates provided by Science Gallery Dublin and the SISCODE project. 

Considerations: Strong facilitation is vital, as this may be the first time students have worked in this way, students may be shy and uncomfortable with this new way of working. It is important to deliver tasks with direct and clear explanations. 

Potential application/ adaptation: The Mind Lab  method can be used for any type of collaborative working. It can also be used as an ice-breaker for the beginning of a project or to rethink a project’s strategy. 

Case Study:

‘The Mind Lab Method’ is given to undergraduate students who take part in the Trinity College Dublin Elective module, Idea Translation Lab by Science Gallery Dublin. These workshops can be scaled to suit your needs based on audience size, time constraints or output. In Science Gallery Dublin it was completed in 2 x 2hour workshops, and each session is broken down into several components.  

Firstly participants are divided into groups of four to six people. 

Workshop 1

Task 1: Communication 

As an ice-breaker participants are asked to complete a drawing by instruction exercise. 

  • All participants follow the instructions of the facilitator. 
  • A facilitator gives line-by-line instructions on how to draw a simple object such as a house, car, or rocket. Participants do not know what they are drawing. Instructions should be simple and precise e.g. “Draw a vertical line three cm in length on the left side of the page”.
  • Participants in each group are asked to take turns giving instructions of a new picture. 

Task 2: Empathy Curves 

As this may be the first time students have collaborated with each other in this way, we feel it is important to introduce them to empathy mapping. This keeps in mind the need to give other participants space and that some tasks may be easier for particular participants. 

  • Participants pick a task they do everyday such as making a cup of tea, or commuting to university. 
  • Participants are then asked to pick several different types of users from diverse backgrounds such as users of different abilities, ethnicities, ages etc. 
  • Participants are then asked to draw a graph of time of task vs difficulty and to draw a line for each of the users they picked indicating parts of the tasks one user might find difficult. 
  • Participants are asked to report back on the graphs they drew and pass comments on the difficulties encountered.

Task 3:  IDEA GENERATION 1 –  Terrible Thoughts & Mind Map Mashup 

  • Each individual contributes one mundane task and one hobby
  • Each group is assigned a random task and hobby to combine into an idea, that can be an object / artifact, an engagement piece, an event or an initiative. 
  • Participants are first asked to come up with the worst ideas they can think of. 
  • Participants are then asked to come up with the best idea they can think of. 


  • What was the point of today’s class? 
  • Did you participate as you would have liked? 
  • Did anything surprise you?

Workshop 2:


Groups create manifestos for  collaborative working. This manifesto comprises between five and ten points on things they would like their group to keep in mind as they proceed with their project work. They keep the manifesto on file. The facilitator will remind the group of the manifesto each day or before each task.


  • Students develop 3 lists with as many items per list as possible.
    ISSUE: Relates to  topics in Science, Technology, Art and Society.
    USER: Relates to groups of people with similar traits or characteristics, users can be very specific such as middle age partially blind women of colour, or more general such as ‘students’.
    PRACTICE: Refers to types of things people do, such as art practices, education practices, hobbies etc. 
  • Students have three minutes to make a list as long as they can, they then randomly select six topics from each list. 

Task 3: Break it Before you Make it 

  • Each group is given an Issue-User-Practice combination at random from the lists they have generated. Students are asked to come up with an idea such as an exhibition piece, an event or a product based on the combinations given. In this round they try to make the worst idea possible
  • After 3 minutes students then shareback what their groups developed and any pictures to go along with it. 


  • Groups are then given three new combinations of Issue-User-Practice. In the first cycle students collaboratively generate ideas of initiatives, events, art pieces or education practices. 
  • The groups will got through 3-5 different combinations to generate a selection of different ideas. 


  • Students are given an ‘Impact vs Creativity’ canvas; students use templates to graph their ideas and refine their collective ideas into one. This helps students to decide what idea they want to focus on and take forward. 
  • ‘Shareback’  Each of the groups present their one refined idea in a 30-second elevator speech. 


  • Have a look back at your Group Manifesto. Do you think you and others adhered to what you committed to? Why or why not?

Workshop 3

Task 1: Stakeholder Mapping: 

Design a stakeholder map detailing who is involved in the project at different levels such as manager, operators, collaborator, influencer etc. 

Task 2: Slide Deck (may be done outside of workshop time)

Prepare a five-slide deck pitching your group’s idea for a ‘provocation’ or public engagement piece to present back at the beginning of next week’s session. This could include 

  • Name of piece 
  • What is the piece about?
  • What is the visitor experience 
  • Where is it positioned? 
  • What is the proposed impact?


Through previous idea generation and refinement the challenge on which students are working becomes better understood and more refined. Defining a problem is an important step to creating an effective and efficient solution.What appears to be a problem at first, may just be the result of an underlying larger issue. This tool allows groups to understand what these underlying factors may be, and to contextualize the problem so as to re-frame it in a more specific and direct manner.

  • Working from their group idea, students complete a canvas that helps them to flesh out their project idea and to understand what they are trying to achieve
  • The canvas asked questions such as: Who is involved? What challenge does this solution help to solve? Why are these goals important? How can this be carried out? 
  • Shareback: In two breakout rooms one representative from each group presents their redefined challenge.


  • What was the point of this class that you took part in today? Summarise in your own words.
  • How was the topic relevant to you? Did it link to areas of interest / previous study?
  • How could the topic you covered impact you, others or society now or in future?
  • Will you do anything differently in the future as a result of taking part in this workshop?

The aim of ‘The Mind Lab Method’ is threefold:

Firstly it acts as an ice breaker for students taking the Idea Translation Lab module. These students are from a diverse range of backgrounds and are studying disciplines not directly related to STEAM. Therefore The Mind Lab Method introduces students to other students topics of interests and expertise. 

Secondly it functions as an introduction to collaborative working in STEAM. As these students are not from a STEAM background they may not be familiar with this type of open working. 

Thirdly, we believe it is an equitable and accessible way for students to be comfortably introduced to one another, learn from each other and begin their project work in an effective way. 


Evaluation was completed through Google forms. Students were asked eight questions. 

  1. How accessible did you find the method you have been carrying out?
  2. How do you feel you communicated throughout the method, as a group and as an individual?
  3. How do you feel you collaborated as a group? What elements of this method do you think made collaboration easy or difficult?
  4. What skills or competencies (if any) did you feel you used or developed using his method?
  5. Did you learn anything from using these collaboration methods, such as details about your working group, education, discipline perspective on STEAM?
  6. Do you think this method could be improved? If so, how?
  7. Do you think the outcome from this method is effective / useful? Please explain why.
  8. Any other questions or comments?

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