What Makes an Effective Public Innovation Lab?

‘Innovation labs’ and ‘behavioural insights teams’ are an increasingly widespread approach to foster innovation in government. They can be found globally at local, regional and federal government level. These are usually small teams located in proximity to the executive leader and are charged with working together with policy specialists in developing innovative approaches to policy design and service delivery. Many of them draw on ‘design thinking’ as method of engaging stakeholders to jointly develop innovations, other rely on ‘behavioural insights’ and the testing of innovations in experimental designs. While much enthusiastic support for the work of these units is voices in professional circles, little empirical analysis is available that demonstrates what makes for a successful innovation lab.

In this project course, we a) develop criteria for successful innovation labs and b) cross-nationally compare cases of labs. Based on introductions to design thinking and behavioural insights, we will draw on concepts from political economy and executive politics to develop an analytical framework for the benchmarking of innovation labs. Students will work in small groups to carry out country case studies or a focussed comparison of a small number of cases/labs. The project partner is pending (e.g., an existing public policy lab).

This course is for 1st year MPP students only.


  • Kai Wegrich , Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy
  • Mark Hallerberg , Deputy President, Dean of Research and Faculty and Professor of Public Management and Political Economy