• February 20, 2018
  • 4 minutes
  • 1

Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary: How to scale up public policy

The head of MindLab on why innovators should think differently about sharing solutions

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.

How to scale up public policy (20.Feb.2018)

Scale is sweet music. The favourite tune played by investors to entrepreneurs, by politicians to the policy-implementing social worker. With a chorus of big promises: products that can be manufactured in huge quantities and services that will spread seamlessly to an infinite number of users. Practically all by themselves, if only the right circumstances are present.

This type of scale is a form of horizontal spread. And a key factor for success is to “keep it simple”. Because the simpler the solution to a problem is, the more beautifully it scales. Horizontally.

“If you settle merely for ‘inspiration’, public institutions and society will miss out on huge, easy wins”

Thinking about scale vertically, on the other hand, not only reveals an increasing complexity in the solution, but also in the problem. Transpose those ideas from user-centric industrial design to public policy, from infrastructure to systemic change, and both problems and solutions will start to shift. Radically.

Maybe that’s why a recent study by the Danish Centre for Public Innovation (COI) shows that 60% of public innovation is inspired by other’s solutions and only 13% is a direct copy. Because seamless scaling across political and social systems would require complete vertical alignment, which is highly unlikely.

But if you settle merely for ‘inspiration’, public institutions and society will miss out on huge, easy wins, in the form of value refinement and fast service delivery.

That’s why, when we talk about scale, we must think about which vertical level we’re working on, and distinguish between horizontal levels on which it can be scaled as it is, and situations where we need to rework the specific elements of the solution.

Then it will scale. Seamlessly.

(Picture credit: MindLab)

Thomas Prehn

Read other instalments of this series:
Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary
Design sinking
A backlog of curiosity
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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