Research event

The lifecycles of public innovation labs: Why are they created, and why do they close?

A presentation by Mark Hallerberg, Sabine Junginger and Kai Wegrich (Hertie School). This event marks the first session of the Organization and Management Research Colloquium on Innovation in the Public Sphere.

Prior registration is not required. A light lunch will be served.

This paper considers the lifecycle of public innovation labs that are meant to be cross departmental. We focus on the role of the superiors of the lab, that is, those who decide to fund the lab, to promote it, and (sometimes more indirectly) to end it. Theoretically, two dimensions of the principal-agent relationship between these superiors and their labs are most critical. The first is the background of the superiors. Are they mostly political, that is, are they a part of the current government who will leave when the next government comes, or are they mostly from the bureaucracy? Second, is there one principal, or are there multiple principals? To examine this framework, the paper compares three labs in advanced industrialized countries at the central government level that have experienced a full lifecycle, from birth to death. Bureaucrats in Australia largely set up DesignGov. There was never consensus among the multiple principals what a cross-departmental lab should do, however, and the lab closed after its trial period ended. The Helsinki Design Lab started with one main principal who was largely technocratic. To achieve some of its goals, it demanded stronger backing from the government, which it failed to get, and it then closed. The most widely known case in our study, Mindlab in Denmark, began with one principal but acquired more principals over time. It lasted longer than the other two labs. When the other principals decided to terminate their funding of the lab, the original principal closed the lab and transferred some remaining staff to a ministry-specific project. These examples suggest that the initial choices about the relationship between principals and agents affects not only the course of their “lives” but also their “deaths.” Our – still preliminary – analysis of the life cycle of innovation labs from a principal-agent perspective offers critical insights into the executive politics that shape the working of government innovation labs, like other cross-cutting units in government.