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: