MindLab - A Danish public sector innovation lab and a stage for public sector collaboration

I recently visited the Danish MindLab in Copenhagen. A collaboration between the Danish Ministries of Economic and Business Affairs, Taxation and Employment, MindLab is a cross-Ministry innovation lab that facilitates the active involvement of citizens and businesses in developing new public sector solutions. MindLab specialises in facilitating discussions between public servants, citizens and businesses out in community settings. It uses the outcomes to redesign public policy and service delivery in key areas.

There is a physical space - a specifically designed 'neutral zone for inspiring creativity, innovation and collaboration.' It houses workshop/ meeting spaces, plus office space for a small permanent professional staff of around 7. These include a number of professional researchers, who work with public servants to develop new ideas and concepts to address problems and improve services. With permanent and seconded or contracted staff, MindLab usually has a staff of about 15. It undertakes 7-10 projects each year for its parent ministries.

Typically a project will involve a number of public servants from the sponsoring ministry or ministries, who may be seconded to the MindLab for a period. To these traditional public administration skills the MindLab adds expertise in qualitative research (including the involvement of anthropologists, sociologists and ethnologers - ie those that have a deep practical insight into human behaviour and culture) and design thinking (through the involvement of designers who specialise in the development of new ideas and concepts). This mix of skills seeks to stimulate creative thinking and solutions to public sector issues. MindLab also hosts a number (currently three) of PhD students who are each researching elements of public sector reform and thus contributing to the development of new knowledge.

MindLab's approach is based on a process model which consists of seven phases: project focus, learning about the users, analysis, idea and concept development, concept testing, the communication of results and impact measurement. It is a systematic approach that includes developing and testing solutions for presentation to project sponsors. In addition to its role as project manager/facilitator, MindLab also provides an advisory service to projects being undertaken within its sponsoring ministries; undertakes staff training and workshops to disseminate its findings and learnings; and maintains a network of public and private sector and academic contacts with an interest in innovation in public sector administration.

While some Australian public sector agencies are also undertaking a number of the things that MindLab is doing, it seems to me that MindLab has some distinct advantages. It approaches its projects in a systematic manner and brings in a diversity of skills often not utilised by the Australian public sector. Also, by using a cross agency innovation hub, the learnings and experience from its projects are recorded and shared.

It provides a useful example for the Australian public sector. You can get a feel for its work at www.mind-lab.dk. [Use the button on the left hand side of the screen to turn it into English.]