The limits of policy labs: characteristics, opportunities and constraints
Source TitlePolicy Design and Practice
PublisherTAYLOR & FRANCIS LTD
University of Melbourne Author/sLewis, Jennifer
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsLewis, J. M. (2021). The limits of policy labs: characteristics, opportunities and constraints. POLICY DESIGN AND PRACTICE, 4 (2), pp.242-251. https://doi.org/10.1080/25741292.2020.1859077.
Access StatusOpen Access
Policy labs are promoted as providing supportive structures and processes for innovation. Their contributions to policy advisory systems are seen as residing in developing creative policy solutions “outside” traditional bureaucratic structures, and in providing experimental sites for solving problems. This paper examines the characteristics of policy labs in terms of their organizational forms, size, focus and the methods that they employ. It then analyses the opportunities and constraints that labs have in relation to policy design. Labs can be government-controlled, government-enabled, government-led or independently run. They are typically small and tend to be short-lived. Labs often focus on “design” methods. Their autonomy and close connection to citizens and communities provide opportunities, and design-led approaches are helpful in reframing policy problems and finding a broader set of potential solutions. While a key strength is flexibility, labs are comparatively easy to shut down, defund, or ignore, and their survival depends on political patronage. Labs also face constraints in terms of operational capacity and their favored (design) methods, which clash with standard policy processes and bureaucratic structures. Policy labs certainly provide capabilities for improving the design of public policies. However, labs reside in broader policy advisory systems and alone, they cannot provide the solution to all policy design challenges.
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