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Policy Lab: looking back, looking forward

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At the beginning of January we welcomed back Hannah Rutter. This is her first blog and we asked her what differences she's found on her return.

A year ago I left the Open Policy Making Team to have a baby.  I had to leave others to bring into the world my work baby – Policy Lab.

By December 2013 I was completely convinced that a Policy Lab could be a fantastic ‘thing’ for all of us in the policy profession.  It had been approved and funding agreed.  I just wasn’t sure what it was going to look like!

One of my final tasks before tumbling into the strange world of baby was to write the job description for the Head of the Lab.  Thanks to Twitter I was able to keep an eye on the results – the fantastic Andrea, leading the Policy Lab into its first year.

Before I left there were a lot of questions about how the Lab would work.  It was tricky to ensure whoever came to lead this new thing had plenty of room to shape it into something exciting and different but still provide those essential processes like HR and finance with the structure and accountability needed to make it happen.  Andrea and the Lab continue to navigate that tension – being inside Government but not necessarily acting like it!

It is so exciting: returning to work to find what was once only a concept has become a real, practical, if very small, team.  They’re doing meaningful work on live policy challenges and supporting colleagues across government to use new tools and techniques that enrich their work.

Policy Lab always felt a bit risky to me.  We had international examples but no obvious blueprint.  We knew in theory why it would be useful, but had no neat evidence base to refer to. The Heads of Policy Profession in each government department took a risk when they agreed to sponsor it.  But if we don’t give ourselves space to try new things, the innovation we’re always seeking cannot happen.

Policy Lab is living the design principles it espouses.  Starting small, learning by doing, collaborating and iterating itself.  I’ve rejoined to work in a nine-month-old Policy Lab.  There is still so much to do, and very little time and resource to do it in, but hey, isn’t that always the way?

10 weeks until the end of the financial year and with an election on the horizon it’s impossible to predict the future, but I’m glad to be back on board for whatever comes next!


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