An introduction to public sector innovation labs
A new form of lab has emerged. Instead of designing new drugs or widgets, these new labs are set up to explore, test and develop innovative public services. These labs often employ a diverse mix of people from a range of disciplines and backgrounds and draw upon methods from the fields of design, behavioural science, data and technology.
Instead of designing new drugs or widgets, these new labs are set up to explore, test and develop innovative public services.
The rationale behind many of these labs are broadly similar. Some have been established to find better, faster and cheaper ways of delivering services. Others point to the limitations of top-down policymaking and emphasise the desire to engage more effectively with citizens - and, in doing so, to reimagine the relationship between citizens and government. And others emphasise the need to create a space that allows for greater experimentation than that which can be achieved through business as usual. Often it is a combination of these.
Whatever the rationale, these labs are proving increasingly popular as a mechanism for catalysing change. In July 2015, over 350 lab practitioners assembled in London for LabWorks to share the latest experiences from this emerging field. A recent report by Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies on innovation teams highlights the global growth in this phenomenon, while an increasing number of toolkits and resources are increasingly being shared by lab practitioners.
For many public sector agencies starting to think about how they may begin to apply design or other innovation methods, labs provide a way to experiment at a small scale, build credibility, competence and confidence before spreading these approaches more broadly across their organisation and sector.