Accepted paper:

"A safe place to do dangerous things": Policy Labs as the future of policymaking in Europe


Verena Kontschieder (Technical University of Munich)
Sebastian Pfotenhauer (Technical University of Munich)

Paper short abstract:

We explore the recent rise of 'policy laboratories' in the public sector based on a case study of the EU Commission's 'EU Policy Lab'. We argue that the deployed practices and rationales propose a policymaking model that reconfigures the role of experts, publics, and policy organizations.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, we explore 'policy laboratories' as a growing public policy trend. Based on the promise to create a more inclusive, experimental, and responsive policy process, 'policy labs' propose to harness the perceived virtues of innovation and design for incumbent policy institutions. Drawing on empirical work at the 'EU Policy Lab', our research addresses the following: What problems are policy labs trying to solve? How do policy labs create and release policy? Which policy areas are shaped, based on which assumptions and conditions? How is participatory expertise operationalized for policy co-design? We argue that policy labs propose a different role for "the policy maker of the future" - from 'expert' to 'enabler' or 'community manager' - with new tools and novel forms of knowledge (e.g., design thinking). Moreover, our findings suggest that policy labs see themselves as a locus of 'reality' that reflects, and can be used to reform, citizens' access to the policy process. We borrow from STS work on socially robust knowledge, lab studies, and technological humility to analyze how policy labs mobilize isolated spaces to make the policy process at once more scientific and more open and co-creative. We look into how the policymaker is urged to adopt diverse practical techniques to involve a diversified pool of actors in policymaking as well as to systematically test and modify policies as they are being crafted, while at the same time labs are trying to position themselves vis-à-vis constraints imposed by the hosting policy institution.

panel F09
Democracies of controlled experimentation? The emerging landscape of social laboratories