Testing governance: the laboratory lives and methods of policy innovation labs

Ben Williamson at Code Acts in Education: “Digital technologies are increasingly playing a significant role in techniques of governance in sectors such as education as well as healthcare, urban management, and in government innovation and citizen engagement in government services. But these technologies need to be sponsored and advocated by particular individuals and groups before they are embedded in these settings.

Testing governance cover

I have produced a working paper entitled Testing governance: the laboratory lives and methods of policy innovation labs which examines the role of innovation labs as sponsors of new digital technologies of governance. By combining resources and practices from politics, data analysis, media, design, and digital innovation, labs act as experimental R&D labs and practical ideas organizations for solving social and public problems, located in the borderlands between sectors, fields and disciplinary methodologies. Labs are making methods such as data analytics, design thinking and experimentation into a powerful set of governing resources.They are, in other words, making digital methods into key techniques for understanding social and public issues, and in the creation and circulation of solutions to the problems of contemporary governance–in education and elsewhere.

The working paper analyses the key methods and messages of the labs field, in particular by investigating the documentary history of Futurelab, a prototypical lab for education research and innovation that operated in Bristol, UK, between 2002 and 2010, and tracing methodological continuities through the current wave of lab development. Centrally, the working paper explores Futurelab’s contribution to the production and stabilization of a ‘sociotechnical imaginary’ of the future of education specifically, and to the future of public services more generally. It offers some preliminary analysis of how such an imaginary was embedded in the ‘laboratory life’ of Futurelab, established through its organizational networks, and operationalized in its digital methods of research and development as well as its modes of communication….(More)”