• February 28, 2018
  • 3 minutes
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Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary: A backlog of curiosity

The head of MindLab on why curiousity is critical to innovative policymaking

MindLab is the world’s oldest government innovation lab and has spawned imitations all over the globe. It stands at the forefront, both in theory and practice, of efforts to make government cleverer, faster and more inventive. Here, its director Thomas Prehn shares his experiences and ideas in a regular update.

Apolitical has previously interviewed Thomas here. He can be contacted on the Apolitical network here. The views expressed here are Thomas’s own and not representative of any public body. This piece appears in our feed on government innovation

A backlog of curiosity (27.Feb.2018)

Today I found ‘Sprint’, the book about the Google Ventures process, lying around at the office. It’s a positive reminder of the well-defined approaches to developing new products: lean, agile and sprint. Speeding up the process of delivering services, whether digital or analog, as well as speeding up policy making itself certainly is the fad of the day in cutting-edge public sector innovation. In MindLab, too. We’ve have explored the idea of a Public Startup, for instance.

While I’m not a connoisseur, I’m a bit sceptical about this radical focus on the actual building of products. Because in a hyper-complex and fast-moving eco-system, the key is actually to build perspectives. And maybe the inevitable product backlog means there is a risk of building the perfect solution to the wrong problem. 

“Our backlog shouldn’t consist of things we need to build, but of things we must learn”

The prescription of rapid prototyping and the deployment of minimum viable products should be motivated by the urge to learn, to gain insights, about behaviour and needs. Never by the hankering after yet another app or policy. 

This is why our backlog shouldn’t consist of things we need to build. But of things we must learn. And by turning our hypotheses into experiments, we’ll be able to discover the best problem to solve while developing the ability to solve it. 

Sprint or not, next time you’re building a product or implementing political intention, consider building a backlog of curiosity.

(Picture credit: MindLab)

Thomas Prehn

Read other instalments of this series:
Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary
Design sinking
How to scale up public policy
Innovation is not a room
Innovation labs measure success to justify themselves—but it can’t be done

Bring me problems, not solutions
How to build a team of innovators


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