On May 1, 2018, MindLab, the world’s first government innovation lab closed its doors. In the culminating post in his Innovation Diary at Apolitical, former MindLab director Thomas Prehn shares nine lessons learned from his time working to innovate and improve governance in Denmark.
The first three lessons are:
Failure is not an option: In political systems, failure is not appreciated, because it exposes the minister and ministry to public scrutiny. And for public servants this is a huge concern, for various reasons. So it’s imperative that you rigorously return to the problem until it’s resolved. This must be what you promise at the outset, rather than promising a smoothly facilitated workshop.
Climb down from the ivory tower: Innovation units often define themselves in opposition to the rest of the organisation. Please, lose the arrogant centre-of-excellence attitude. Always be humble: no matter your effort, success is never yours alone. And remember that it actually makes you stronger if success happens in the core of the system, and not on its outskirts.
Don’t promote methods: Yes, design methods might be utilitarian and easily applicable, but they don’t help usher in a sustainable change to how organisations work. Instead strive to leave a cultural dent in everything you do, by challenging inherited assumptions and behaviours, and using the power of example to prove impossible wrong.