Blog da Rede de Inovação no Setor Público

29 de dez. de 2015

The Journey of MindLab (parte 2/2)


From 2002 until now


“Where does innovation live in your Ministry?”

The Permanent Secretary of the (then) Ministry of Business Affairs was asked by leading business school academics. His ministry was in charge of fostering innovation in the private sector - but what about innovation in the public sector?

At that he accepted the challenge that the ministry should “take its own medicine”. Innovation was to be incorporated as a core organizational practice. And so, he invested in the establishment of an innovation lab in his ministry; MindLab was born.

In the following, we’ve described the journey so far in six generations - each developing, expanding and anchoring our space of opportunity.


+ 130 projects

+ 1000 Presentations Advising

+ 150 governments

4 PhD projects

10–15 employees


1st GENERATION: 2002 – 2006


The first manager of MindLab described the establishment of MindLab as “Throwing a grenade inside bureaucracy”. The expectations were high – the mission of MindLab was to give creativity and new ideas optimal conditions in the Ministry of Business Affairs by acting as a catalyst in the work with new strategies as well as supporting the development of creative competencies in the ministry. In the outside world, innovation was an emerging agenda – and questions on how to address this agenda in the public sector were increasing in intensity and numbers.

At this stage, a lot of focus was directed at the seemingly innovative and radically different interior physical space of MindLab. This space served the practical purpose of being a place capable of gathering people from across sectors and organizations in workshops. Its main purpose was to temporarily abandon the normal interest-driven meeting culture and engage people in collaborative problem-solving activities.

In the same sense, the space also functioned as a meeting place for everyone from students to top managers, deliberately trying to abolish normal hierarchical differences.


Approach: Ideation and creative facilitation; Innovation as ideas and policy concepts.

Key challenge: Acceptance of new ways of working.

Signs of success: Demonstrating that policy development could successfully be done in other ways than through inside-out analysis and formulation.


2nd GENERATION: 2007 – 2009


From the provocative statement of being a hand grenade at bureaucracy, MindLabs focus shifted towards a longer term focus on user-orientation, creating new solutions through qualitative insights of the concrete experiences of people and their interaction with public services. As the year of 2007 begins, MindLab is constituted as a cross-governmental unit between the Ministries of Taxation and Economics and Business Affairs. Later in this year, the Ministry of Employment enters formally as partner.

Christian Bason started as new manager of MindLab in 2007. When recruiting staff, MindLab was explicitly asking potential applicants: “Do you want to revolutionize the public sector from within?” A thorough process of hiring a new team was carried out with careful attention to people’s skills – in particular focused on the combination of social research, design and public administration – as well as on personal attributes like curiosity, openness and empathy.

This phase was also giving birth to an ambitious research agenda at MindLab, and investments were made to make PhD projects part of MindLab’s value-creation. Beyond this, MindLab’s project work was at this stage characterized by a significant emphasis on service design as method to create new solution concepts and, increasingly, also organizational development.


Approach: Service innovation labs; focus on generating user-oriented insights to drive innovation with use of service design, project management and creative facilitation. Scientific research as ongoing process of research and reflection on Mindlabs work.

Key challenge: Creating awareness of user-driven innovation; integrating innovation approaches as legitimate parts of public development practice. Finding the right balance between small-scale assignments and larger scale projects.

Signs of success: That someone actually wanted to work with MindLab (2007). Later to get the buy-in from the top management in projects and in research (2008).


3rd GENERATION: 2010 – 2011


In 2010, MindLab had grown larger, now around 15 employees– and with a split management between the director and a deputy director. At this time, an increasing demand emerged from international governments, public organizations, research institutions and other actors involved in public innovation activities. As a response, MindLab became heavily invested in raising awareness and creating a widespread, international community of innovation practice.

While investing in being a catalyst of an emerging international movement, MindLab faced much more threatening circumstances in relation to the concrete value-creation for the ministerial owners of MindLab. Combined with rumors of a planned closing of the Helsinki Design Lab, this sparked much reflection on the strategy of MindLab going forward.

This reflection process led to a shift in the mission of MindLab from “challenging the system” to being a ”co-worker of the system”.


Approach: Advocacy and awareness raising. Co-creating with users and co-production to create professional empathy and trust among public managers.

Key challenge: Finding the right balance between investing in the creation of a widespread community of practice and the concrete value-creation for the funders of MindLab.

Signs of success: The establishment of an active international public sector innovation community (2011). That the board is starting to see the international engagement and collaboration as an internal value to the ministries (2011).


4th GENERATION: 2012 – 2013


The long-standing ambition of enabling real, strategic partnerships with the owners and other relevant collaborative partners are at the core of MindLab’s development in this period. The current board structure is replaced by a more strategic, decision-oriented model with only the permanent secretaries as board members. Along with this change, a new advisory board is formed with international experts from different fields to ensure that MindLab makes the most of its position and possibilities.

The goal is to become a better strategic change partner for the ministries. To pursue this goal, a new work-program structure is built around important challenges and agendas and policy areas in the ministries. In this re-organizing process, the Ministry of Education is added to the owners of MindLab. At this stage, MindLab also acts proactively to connect the content of the new government platform to the work, methods and research agendas that MindLab – with a human-centered approach – could address in innovative ways.

The internationally-oriented work becomes more strategic in this period. For example, MindLab partners up with international institutions like the UNDP to develop their innovation capacity. And MindLab director Christian Bason advises the President of European Commission José Manuel Barroso on innovation strategy.


Approach: Making policy innovation labs by using human-centered design for public policy; combining research-based knowledge with user-oriented insight. Strong focus on outcome.

Key challenge: Finding the balance between being an embedded change partner and an autonomous innovation unit.

Signs of succes: Two 1-1 sessions with the minister of education on how to enable human centered implementation (2013).

The launch of a research collaboration with Nesta (2013).


5th GENERATION: 2014 – 2015


In 2014, MindLab took a strategic step from being cross-ministerial to become ‘cross-public’, adding the municipality of Odense to the circle of owners. This new formalized partnership with Odense recognized an increasing need for local experimentation.

With the existing owners, MindLabs role had an increasing focus on working systematically with creating change capacity in the ministries to ensure better outcomes from political initiatives. In particular, MindLab takes a critical role in creating a new mindset to policy-making the Ministry of Employment through a mix of activities, research and leadership training.

These efforts were also supported by an explicit research agenda focusing on linking policy and practical outcomes in new ways.

Temporary partnerships with other Danish ministries also became part of the work portfolio. In 2014, a temporary partnership was made with the Ministry of Interior temporary exploring new governance models for more trust-based public service systems. Internationally, MindLab was increasingly involved in setting up innovation labs around the world. This was the latest development in a maturing international movement where human-centered design and public innovation methods are becoming drivers of changing the functionality of government and public administration.


Approach: System and governance innovation; Applying user-insight to enable systemic change.

Key challenge: The ‘us-and-them’ problem: Integrating an innovation lab in the core operations of bureaucracy while maintaining a unique position as a radical change agent.

Signs of success: Providing the content and facilitation of the leadership seminar in the Ministry of Employment on new approaches to implementation (2014).

The owners naturally ask for MindLab’s input and involvement when they set out to create new strategic agendas for their top-management (2015).





(!) Postagem relacionada: The Journey of MindLab (parte 1/2)

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