Lab Connections: Insights on Policy Labs in Europe for Europe
Ottobre 19, 2016

“A reform is not a reform before there are citizens that experience something different”

Mette Frederiksen, Former Danish Minister of Employment

On 17th and 18th October 2016 the Design Policy Lab @ Polimi has taken part to the ‘Lab Connections’ event organized by the Eu Policy Lab at the JRC in Brussels.

The main aim has been to showcase and help connect more than 50 policy labs that were mapped through an independent initiative of the EU Policy Lab. The venue has been great to share conversations, topics, experiences, skills and issues of labs in Europe and also to create a closer link of this movement with the European Commission.

Interesting and inspiring speeches have ranged from members of government and public administration at different levels, as well as lab practitioners and experts/influencers that are steering the movement of Policy Labs in the world.

Also practical sessions have been held to reinforce the experimental approach of labs, to try and solve real policy issues in direct collaboration with policy officers from the EC. Issues like city governance and regeneration, migration and refugees integration, public services digitalization, the future of health, support to European start-ups, and the integration of a European Once-Only Principle into public administration have been explored.

The most interesting discussions have touched upon the idea that the current society is facing non trivial issues that require non trivial answers. This is the overarching reason why Labs are becoming so important and wide-spread. The movement of Policy Labs is about increasing legitimacy of public interventions and introducing new (and sometimes distributed) intelligence in the public decision process, to use statistical data as well as ethnographic approaches and insights. The objective is to test different ways of doing things and to co-design alternative futures. Experimentation is vivid also around applying design approaches into the policy cycle in  different ways and in different moments of the process. This is done through adopting user-centered approaches, merging policy and experimental practices, focusing on creativity, sense making, and local insights.

Policy Labs are mainly trying to create the favorable conditions for experimentation in policy practice to find alternative ways to deal with public problems, and propose a new practice of policy making. However, the movement is still in its infancy, thus requiring a strong support to share tools, methods, practices, and approaches to help everyone advance in its own context.

How to design public policy differently? How to make sure they work? How to obtain the best results with a limited budget? How to scale up meaningful but small experiments? These are all questions at the basis of framing the emergent and more sophisticated debate around this topic, including labs, policy makers, and the society at large and define a new practice for policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation.

Policy labs are underpinning a new community of practice and a new movement for social change, promoting a cultural shift in the public sector.