Lab Connections: Policy Labs in Europe for Europe #POLICYLAB4EU

Christian Svanfeldt

By Christian Svanfeldt, on December 8th, 2016

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Public authorities are faced with growing challenges and shrinking budgets. Innovation and modernisation of the public sector is a must to deliver more with less. More stakeholder – especially citizen- involvement can ensure more effective and to the point policies. Policy labs, through their user-centred design thinking and experimental approaches, can be instrumental for this.

That is why the European Commission through its own lab, the EU Policy Lab, and with the support of the European Parliament, is running a project aiming at connecting local, regional or national policy labs with European Commission policy departments.

Policy Lab description 2

A key event to achieve this was the LAB CONNECTIONS, a gathering of policy labs from across Europe on 17-18 October this year (2016). The aim of LAB CONNECTIONS was to create an open space for collaboration between policy labs and policy-shapers at local, regional, national and EU-level by

  • discussing the role of policy labs in public sector innovation
  • experimenting and testing through concrete actions how policy labs can contribute to address concerns of pan-European relevance.

LAB CONNECTIONS was held at the very heart of the EU, at the open ground floor of the Berlaymont building, the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels. It was a deliberate choice to expose passing-by Commission officials to the plenary discussions, the parallel design workshop sessions and to an exhibition of the activities of more than 30 policy labs from across Europe.

Open conversations to better understand the context of policy labs set the scene for LAB CONNECTIONS

20161017_Lab_0082-150x150 heated discussionsThe first conversation focused on experiences from Finland, Estonia, France and Portugal to spot tendencies, explain good experiences and highlight hurdles in the path towards innovation and modernisation in the public sector. The second conversation was more oriented to the practical dimensions of establishing lab-like structures, ensuring and demonstrating impact, while sharing positive and negative experiences, organisational models, etc.

The second part of LAB CONNECTIONS consisted of hands-on lab sessions.
20161018_Lab_0343 hands on sessionPolicy labs are “do-tanks”. The best way to demonstrate that labs can make a difference is by “do-sessions”, i.e., a workshop with participants working in small groups and addressing real issues.
The starting point of this hands-on work was a list of challenges brought forward by European Commission policy officers attending the event. The challenges were explored, visually represented and reframed individually at ten different tables. The objective was to generate ideas for actions, i.e., entry points to tackle (some dimension of) the challenge in a concrete way. At the end of these sessions the ideas for action were collected. On the second day the most promising ones were worked upon and transformed into plans for collaborative action, including “kick-starters” to get the actions started.

More than an event. The idea behind LAB CONNECTIONS was not to solve major policy challenges on the spot, but to identify and agree on how you could initiate actions that could address them in a practical way. Through the European Parliament funding there are resources for financing the preparation and organisation of a limited number of workshops and other light activities. This allows for many of the ideas generated around the tables to be further developed and their kick-starter activities implemented. Capture d’écran 2016-12-08 à 11.52.03

To guide the implementation and to harvest insights from the process a steering group consisting of seven experts from renowned labs in Europe has been set up.

Of the ten challenges at least seven seem to have the potential to be carried forward with the necessary buy-in from policy unit that championed the challenge (all except for challenges #5, #6 and #10).

The challenge of connecting digital, physical, natural and social solutions for cities is of direct relevance for cities. Here the issues concern both the way the Commission works internally but also how cities and their inhabitants define innovation.

Many of the other challenges can be of interest to cities as well. If you think that this initiative is relevant for your city, or if you have a policy lab in your city that you think should be part of this project, get in touch with us via our blog.

The EU Policy Lab has a dedicated page to this project where they will provide updates on the activities.

At this stage most actions are in a planning phase but we expect to organise the first concrete activities in the beginning of next year (2017).

Explore Policy LabLAB CONNECTIONS was a first in many respects and provided an opportunity for many to experience the potential of design approaches to provide new ways of framing challenges. The more than two hundred participants were overly positive. Policy labs gained visibility thanks to the exhibition which was visited also by Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva and Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, both giving LAB CONNECTIONS a strong political backing in their speeches.

Depending on the success of the activities, LAB CONNECTIONS could potentially inspire a new way of working with citizens and other stakeholders, contributing to making EU policies more relevant and effective in their implementation and helping the EU to connect better with its citizens.


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