Four months ago, Apolitical launched a global community of practice for innovation labs, a weekly exchange that has grown into a network of 75 labs from 35 countries.
The idea is to give innovation labs a space to share ideas, discuss challenges and crowdsource advice. From Denmark’s Mindlab, the world’s first innovation lab, to West Hollywood’s two-person team, the Innovation Labs Show & Tell gives units big and small a forum to discuss how to make government work better.
Here, we outline what we’ve learned since launching the idea exchange. Many of these ideas appear in our feed on government innovation.
Each month, the labs come together on a video call for a “show and tell”: a brief presentation by a representative from one lab, during which they discuss in detail a project they are working on or a problem they are facing. Afterwards, participants from other labs are invited to ask questions or offer solutions.
The monthly chats are supported by an online directory of people in the field, so participants can share resources and contact each other directly.
“I’m really amazed at how much feeling for a field I get from just spending one hour a month on the call,” said Lene Krogh Jeppesen, a senior consultant at The Centre of Offentlig Innovation (COI), the Danish government’s innovation agency. “A call like that really needs structure and guidance for everyone to get something from it.”
The labs work in vastly different environments but face many of the same challenges, giving participants the opportunity to learn from other labs and leverage tried-and-tested solutions.
A key theme has been if and how innovation labs can measure their impact. Unlike in the private sector, there are no clearly defined metrics or data by which government-affiliated labs can gauge their progress. But thanks to the exchange, labs from around the world are sharing their respective resources, indices and toolkits for impact measurement.
The COI circulated a “barometer” it created to determine the impact of public sector innovation across Denmark. The OPM Lab in Washington, DC, shared how and why it brings in external actors to study and measure its work.
Canada’s Privy Council, meanwhile, shared its country-wide Declaration on Public Sector Innovation, which establishes common definitions and approaches across the country.
It’s become clear that impact measurement is a particular priority for younger, less-established labs, perhaps because they have more to prove. Older, more recognisable units seem less concerned with metrics and more interested in teaching everyday civil servants tactics to help them work more creatively.
For example, Mexico City’s Lab for the City – an experimental arm of government whose founder, Gabriella Gomez-Mont, presented on the most recent Show & Tell call – focuses on encouraging experimentation across the city’s civil service.
The Lab sends its employees – who are not only public servants and social innovators, but also filmmakers, artists, historians, writers and activists – into government departments to teach them to work collaboratively with other agencies to solve problems.
While the Lab’s efforts have been instrumental in some major cross-departmental policy changes (most notably, the city’s crowdsourced constitution), the focus of its work is to teach public servants how to think like innovators – the effect of which is difficult to measure.
The idea behind this approach that that a team of a couple dozen people can only do so much. Catalysing inventiveness in the public sector at large, meanwhile, can unlock greater productivity from hundreds of thousands of government employees.
According to the COI’s barometer, nearly three-quarters of innovations in Denmark are copied or inspired from elsewhere. The idea behind the Innovation Labs Show & Tell is to help labs from around the world, both large and small, learn from each other and spread government innovation more easily.
Join Apolitical for the next Innovation Labs Show & Tell on April 10 by signing up here.
(Picture credit: Unsplash, Twitter/@LabX_govpt, Twitter/kdlucas04)