Policy Labs are multidisciplinary teams developing public services and policies using innovation methods to engage citizens in the development process. There are over 100 Policy Labs worldwide and around 65 in Europe. These Policy Labs use a range of innovation methods including behavioural insights, systems modelling, ethnography, nudge, digital, data science, co-creation and of course, design. On 17-18 October, the European Commission hosted its inaugural 'Lab Connections' conference bringing together Lab experts, policy-makers, designers and researchers. The EU Policy Lab team has created a map of the Policy Labs around Europe which includes PDR's User-Centred Design Lab.
"The world is changing very rapidly and institutions have a hard time coping. To cope, we must work on decision-making procedures, citizen participation, digitalisation, design and be agile in our thinking. In a resource constrained environment we have to focus on creativity and innovation."
"We have to open up decision-making procedures to get innovative ideas into policy. The birth of Policy Labs at national, regional and local levels is a valuable part of this process. The EU Policy Lab has now been operating for a year and a half. Creating a network of policy labs is a revolution in the public sector reform agenda."
EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AND SPORT
The event kicked off with a series of high profile speakers presenting their reflections on policy reform, innovation in government and the role of design in Policy Labs. The Portuguese Minister of Administration Modernisation, Maria Manuel Leitao Marques, presented how five different identification cards had been combined into one ID card, which at the outset everyone believed was impossible. The OECD's Head of the Public Sector Reform Division, Edwin Lau, presented cases of design thinking and big data in government from around the world. For example, the Mexican Government established a game over one month for citizens to travel the city bus routes and used their mobile phone data to create an accurate mapping of the transport system and the most travelled routes. In a roundtable panel a series of lessons both 'dos' and don'ts' were presented.
"We use a four-stage design process - Explore, Experiment, Experience, Expand. Our projects work well when we go straight into prototyping. To show impact, we need to start testing early. Policy is not static."
UK POLICY LAB
"Let's forget the McDonald's vision for Labs. They are all different depending on the local culture. There is no blueprint."
27E REGION, FRANCE
"Most Labs focus on re-framing the challenge at the front end. Labs tend to focus less on the implementation and embedding the methods in the wider government. There are benefits to the quick wins but the more strategic wins are through longer-term implementation and systems change."
The main focus of the conference was exploring nine challenges set by different Directorate-Generals across the Commission. The delegates self-organised into groups depending on their area of interest. These challenges ranged from youth unemployment to migration and from supporting start-ups to a citizen charter for digital public services. Representing PDR, Piotr Swiatek and I joined the groups on migration and youth unemployment.
Using design approaches, we unpacked the challenges, conducted a stakeholder mapping of the 'unusual suspects' trying to identify actors perhaps more on the periphery of the issues and created roadmaps to gather insight with refugees to co-create pilot projects with the various stakeholder groups. In the coming months DGs will be exploring the opportunities to turn the concepts generated at the event into action.
PDR offers training for civil servants and Lab on service and policy design through Greenhouse, capacity building in establishing Labs and evaluation of Lab governance and activities. At the moment, we are evaluating the Northern Ireland Innovation Lab.