Quote of the week
“Labs don’t always last.”
— Mowat Centre Report
Innovation (design or change) labs are the hottest thing in government. They offer opportunities to experiment with collaborative ways to speed up decision-making and take advantage of new sources of information.
Design labs were started in the U.K. with the Behavioural Insights Team and have spread to other governments. The Destination 2020 report encouraged them, and last week the Privy Council Office announced it has followed through on one of the report’s commitments and that its new Innovation Hub was open for business.
This will be a new role for PCO. A Mowat Centre report talks about the changing role of central agencies within the Westminster system, noting that increasingly central agencies like PCO are caring more about implementation or policy delivery issues rather than policy development ones.
The report notes that this typically means setting up what it calls “delivery units” that focus on working with departments so that they follow through on government priorities in practical, measureable ways.
You could say that the PCO Innovation Hub is one such “delivery unit.”
What would the “old” PCO – the organization focused on policy formulation and big issues of the day – do with Innovation Hub responsibilities? My guess is that it would try to manage (control) what departments are doing in the area by hoarding information, putting in cumbersome processes and reporting, providing structured direction and ensuring that it remains, in all senses of the word, in charge.
According to the Mowat Centre, a “new” PCO, on the other hand, would collaborate openly with partners within and outside government, understanding that no one organization owns all the expertise, in order to coordinate without controlling.
The challenge for the PCO Innovation Hub will be to develop a thorough, well-planned engagement strategy that builds upon the principles of innovation labs (experimental opportunities to explore new solutions with a wide variety of stakeholders and partners) and helps to minimize risk, the one thing that dooms so many experiments like these to fail.