Explore, Experiment, Experience, Expand: Lab Connections, Policy Labs in Europe, for Europe

Explore, Experiment, Experience, Expand: Lab Connections, Policy Labs in Europe, for Europe

Last October, the EU Policy Lab hosted “Lab Connections – Policy Labs in Europe, for Europe”, first meeting of European policy labs and first opportunity to generate a community of practitioners and policy-makers at several levels of governance.  Being an applied research-based policy innovation lab LabGov was invited to share its experiences focused on the Sharing Economy, Social Innovation and management of the commons at the local and urban level. We presented our flagship projects already included in the EU Policy Labs report, namely CO-Battipaglia and CO-Mantova, and illustrated our next initiatives: the living lab on civic imagination and urban commons in Bologna, the one on social innovation in Reggio Emilia, and the one on cultural development and digital commons in Rome.  



The first map of European Policy Labs

The European Commission EU Policy Lab, a collaborative and experimental space for innovative policy-making established at the Joint Research Centre (JRC), commissioned to Conseil&Recherche and La 27e Région the development of a mapping exercise of Policy Labs in the European Union. In the past year, the entire research and monitoring process has been implemented. As a result, the map below was created as a first step of an on-going process aimed at identifying actors at different levels of government – local, regional, national, European – designing public policies through innovative, inclusive methods. It will be periodically updated based on feedbacks and new submissions.




In the resulted report published in June 2016 – “Public Policy Labs in European Union Member States” -, policy labs are defined as “dedicated teams, structures, or entities focused on designing public policy through innovative methods that involve all stakeholders in design process”. Each of them is unique in terms of organization, structure, challenges, issues covered, objectives, strategies. However, in order to perform the mapping exercise, researches identified three common features and distinctive criteria  necessary to define policy labs:

  1. A creative, design-oriented, evidence-based and user-centred approach;
  2. Testing and validation of formulated policy proposals through experimentation;
  3. Contribution to shape, re-imagine and co-create public policies for/with public administrations through a wide array of activities – studies, workshops, trainings.



Innovators united: Policy Labs at work

The event, the first inaugural meeting of the LAB CONNECTIONS series, brought together this newly-born community of policy labs in the EU made up of working groups, labs and policy-makers acting at different levels to explore and solve pressing policy challenges of European concern.  It represented a space for open dialogue and practical collaboration between policy labs and policy shapers at local, regional, national and European level.





The first morning session provided an opportunity to learn and share experiences in order to understand the context of policy labs and to frame the following practical works. Speakers and participants tried to give an answer to two questions:

Which are the most promising trends for public sector innovation? Examples from Finland, Estonia, France and Portugal have highlighted the importance of inclusive approaches to embed the principles of participation, inclusion, innovation, and co-creation in the daily working of public administrations and agencies. Openness, investments in management and human resources, and a participatory budget at the national level resulted as the main features of the public administration of the future.




“The fundamental drive of innovation is democratic politics.”

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport


How to implement experimental, creative and citizen-centred approaches in the public sector? Again, engaging people and bringing them together is the answer. Creating the right conditions for policy labs to be set up means making public policy design human, being respectful of local cultures, bringing back the user into the picture and creating closer connections between citizens and civil servants. That is the only way to keep things moving, that is where the future of public policy design is heading to.



“Think of the unthinkable. Anticipate things.  Have the administrative and political capacity to cope.”

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commission Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources







Policy labs being “do-tanks”, policy labourers had the chance to tangibly demonstrate how their work makes a difference during table workshop sessions. Starting from a list of pan-European challenges formulated by policy units within the European Commission, participants were free to explore and re-frame them according to their own experience, assisted by the EU Policy Lab team. Visually working out the challenges let them practically give their contribution and focus on ideas for action, later transformed into concrete, feasible plans for collaborative action to be actually implemented.





LabGov took part to the table workshop on urban challenges. Together with representatives of policy labs from Spain, Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands we looked for policy changes that could allow social, environmental and digital innovations happen simultaneously in European cities. It represented an effort to overcome the sectorial approaches currently characterizing the way the agendas of smart cities, sustainable cities and social inclusion are dealt with. Since these developments are all happening in cities, a cross-sectorial approach in the only way to get the most out of them. As a concrete contributions, participants to the table presented a proposal for a study mapping European cities already implementing this comprehensive approach to multiple challenges – such as Barcelona and Helsinki. From their evaluation, a phase of prototyping, re-regulation and redistribution of public administration in a network of public systems aimed at changing the mindset and social culture of the city would follow.



In parallel with the sessions, an exhibition and networking area was set up for labs to connect, present their projects and prospect synergies. To have access to exhibition materials, please visit LAB CONNCECTIONS official website.


For further information and materials:


European Development Days – On the importance of the Urban Dimension

European Development Days – On the importance of the Urban Dimension

With adoption of the Amsterdam Pact on May 30th, EU leaders showed their full endorsement of the need to attach considerations at the urban dimension to EU decision-making. As we pointed out in our previous article on the topic (We are already on our way to Amsterdam: Countdown to the new EU Urban Agenda), the Amsterdam Pact aims at enhancing new forms of multilevel cooperation in the management of EU funds in four pilot sectors: housing, air quality, integration of migrants and refugees, urban poverty. The real breakthrough is represented by its working method, which champions partnerships on urban-salient issues across multiple levels of government. It is the symbolic beginning of a new process, signalling how sensitive this issue has become for EU policy-makers. By now, reflecting on citizens’ needs at the urban level has become a cornerstone in EU policy-making. EU institutions are demonstrating their leadership and willingness to dialogue with stakeholders on such topics.

logo_edd13Brussels has become a hub to share ideas and experiences and to inspire innovative solutions to the most pressing urban challenges. Here, the European Commission will host the 10th edition of the European Development Days, one of the major conferences dedicated to the issue which will be held on 15th and 16th of June. Among the co-organizers are: ALDA European Association for Local Democracy, Smart Villages Initiatives, The Hague Academy for Local Governance, UN-HABITAT, and UCLG, United Cities and Local Governments. The agenda will focus on the status of implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Within the five main themes (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership) a considerable number of parallel sessions will be in fact devoted to urban-related sub-topics: “Inclusive, sustainable and resilient cities”, “Circular economy”, and “Inclusive and peaceful societies”). Here our selection:

15 June 2016

Time to think urban (09.30-10.45)

City-to-city cooperation: Municipal climate partnerships (09.30-10.45)

Move towards sustainable lifestyle for the people and the planet (09.30-10.45)

My city, my right: Towards inclusive and equitable urban spaces for women (14.00-15.30)

Towards a circular economy for sustainable consumption and production (16.00 – 17.30)

Localising the Sustainable Development Goals: Owning the global development agenda (16.00 – 17.15)

New cooperation models for cities in the age of the Sustainable Development Goals (17.45 – 19.00)


16 June 2016

Mobilising innovative finance for resilient and sustainable cities (13.00 – 14.15)

Local action to address fragility and protracted displacement (14.30 – 16.00)

Urban Now: City Life in Congo (14.45 – 16.00)


Most of the sessions will be available online via streaming.

For the complete agenda and further information visit the link.


Con l’adozione del Patto di Amsterdam lo scorso 30 maggio, i leader europei hanno confermato come la dimensione urbana sia ormai elemento cardine per la formulazione di politiche efficaci a più livelli. Il tema sarà uno dei principali discussi durante gli European Development Days che si terranno il 15 e 16 luglio a Bruxelles alla presenza di personalità di spicco, dal Segretario Generale ONU, Ban Ki-Moon al Vice-Presidente della Commissione Europea, Federica Mogherini.

European Green Capital 2016 – Ljubljana’s Cinderella story

European Green Capital 2016 – Ljubljana’s Cinderella story

Ten years ago, the streets in Ljubljana compact core were clogged with traffic, with little room for pedestrians and a negative effect on the quality of air. In 2016, the European Commission has named Ljubljana European Green Capital. How is this even possible?

The answer lies in Vision 2025, a long-range plan to improve the quality of life developed by Zoran Janković, Ljubljana’s mayor since 2006. The plan sets plenty of ambitious goals on sustainability and environment protection, that influenced every decision made by Ljubljana policymakers.

The most impactful (and effective) decision was by far the one made in 2006 to ban cars from the city centre: only pedestrians, bikes and buses are allowed, and there’s an electric taxi service that offers free rides to elderly and disabled. This led to quieter and safer spaces for pedestrians, a much better air quality, and an increase in business and tourism in the historic centre.

Since its small dimensions, Ljubljana is a contained laboratory to fine tune this kind of policies. The successful experiment conducted in Ljubljana has given good ideas to other European cities: Oslo, Madrid and Brussels have recently announced plans to partly close their city centres to traffic.

Ljubljana’s efforts also aim towards other goals: the city recycles almost two-thirds of its waste, and is the first EU capital to implement a “zero waste” strategy, promoting innovation to increase sustainability of the waste collection system and encouraging people to produce less waste.Cityscape of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana at sunset.


The city’s green spaces are also getting a fresh look, thanks to the bottom-up efforts of civic groups and associations. For example, the associations Bunker Institute and Prostorož began regenerating Tabor Park by hosting cultural festivals, flea markets and concerts, and thus drawing many people to use this green space near Ljubljana centre.

Alenka Korenjak, one of the founders of Prostorož, says: “The success of these initiatives demonstrates that investments of millions of euros are not the only way to promote urban regeneration”.


In che modo la città di Lubiana è passata in soli dieci anni da maglia nera per inquinamento e traffico a capitale verde europea? Un sindaco volenteroso ed una serie di ambiziosi progetti su sostenibilità e protezione ambientale.