How we set up the perfect policy lab?

In the The Guardian today Abhinay Muthoo and Siobhan Benita , both at the University of Warwick, are announcing the creation of a new attempt to align “academia with Whitehall”, called “The Warwick Policy Lab” (WPL). The vision behind WPL:

“It will be driven by evidence, not ideology, and will therefore be able to apply best practice in analytical disciplines to policy design and evaluation. It will involve citizens and service users in its projects, as well as a broad range of experts and interested parties from the public and private sectors. Ultimately, it will generate innovative, cost-effective and implementable policy solutions.”

The article subsequently describes in detail the rationale for developing WPL:

“In the fast-paced world of politics, however, when elected leaders are under pressure to make a difference in short electoral terms, it’s rare that an ideal policy model is faithfully followed. The extent to which the best available evidence is harnessed or the widest range of people really is successfully engaged remains questionable. Too often corners get cut and dogma wins the day. A policy lab that sits within a university, where prominence is given to quality of research and independence of thought, has a better chance of transcending these shortcomings.”

Much of the vision and the rationale resonates with what we aim to establish at the GovLab, also referenced in the article:

“While policy labs are a relatively new concept, there are several of them operating both in the UK and abroad, such as Denmark’s MindLab and the Governance Lab at New York University. They share a desire to engage more effectively with a wider range of individuals and organisations than governments have traditionally been able to do.”

The article ends with the important finding (referencing Prof Mark Stewart) that “robust research if applied to the policy sphere can make a significant, positive difference to thousands of people’s lives”…. reflecting the mission statement behind GovLab:

“The Governance Lab (The GovLab) aims to improve people’s lives by changing how we govern. We are seeking new ways to solve public problems using advances in technology and science.”

Much more work and experimentation is needed to address the expertise deficit within democratic institutions. The creation of the Warwick Policy Lab, along with other initiatives to open and inform governance to new ideas and insights, is a great step forward.

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