Innovation Labs and Collaborative Governance

Outside of the traditional organization, participatory, user-centric approaches are gaining prominence in solving problems. Among these approaches is the innovation Lab, or change Lab, a creative environment that employs proven and repeatable protocols to seek disruptive, potentially systems-tipping solutions. 

The Canadian organisation MaRs has looked upon why and how the “change Labs” are gaining prominence in solving wicked problems. MindLab is used as case in the report available here:

MindLab is a cross-ministerial innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society. We are also a physical space – a neutral zone for inspiring creativity, innovation and collaboration.

At heart, innovation labs are designed to foster collaboration. By this we mean they tend to be established as platforms where multiple stakeholders can engage in interaction, dialogue, and development activities. More "collaborative‟ or "joined-up‟ government has long been a mantra within public management thinking (Mulgan, 2009; Bason, 2010; Torfing and Sørensen, 2011). Indeed, few politicians run for election on a platform of not wanting to create more coherent and holistic services for citizens. However, how to enable more collaborative approaches to policy and service design within a politically governed, bureaucratic environment has often seemed elusive. Even novel e-government solutions have often been trapped in the silo mentality of public organisations, thus not harvesting their full potential. With innovation labs, the hope is that the establishment of dedicated, cross-cutting organisational structures can strike a blow at vested interests, power plays, and organisational infighting. Labs do so by being permanent structures with a mission to temporarily unfreeze organisational embedded practices.

In this paper (see link below), the history of MindLab – one of the world‟s first public sector innovation labs – is told as an example of how one might strengthen innovation in the public sector through interaction and mutual learning, and how the need for innovation support changes as experience and learning increases and relations are strengthened between the stakeholders. This is not a happy-end fairytale, although several of the ingredients are present: The urge to act and change the public sector, the hero who knows of innovation, the many opponents and barriers and few friendly helpers. Instead it might be a never-ending story… and it begins in the dawn of the new millennium.

The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal,
Volume 17(1), 2012, article 4. 
Powering Collaborative Policy Innovation: Can Innovation Labs Help?
Helle Vibeke Carstensen & Christian Bason Helle Vibeke Carstensen Director of Innovation Ministry of Taxation
Nicolai Eigtveds Gade 28, DK-1402 Copenhagen Denmark
Christian Bason Director of Innovation MindLab Slotsholmsgade 12, DK-1216 Copenhagen Denmark

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