The Northern Ireland Public Sector Innovation Lab (iLab) is part of a growing community of policy labs in the UK and around the world using innovation methods, such as design and behavioural insights, to develop public services and policies with users.

Evaluation of the Innovation Lab

PDR, the International Design and Research Centre, was commissioned in 2016 to carry out an evaluation after the iLab’s first two years in operation. The evaluation examined both the Lab activities as well as its governance including leadership, operating model, methods and capacity. This was carried out based on 30 interviews with Lab staff, the wider Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) and external stakeholders.

After two years of activity it was timely for a review of the Lab’s performance and PDR, the International Design and Research Centre, was commissioned to perform an evaluation.

“The rise of Policy Labs using design methods is an innovation in public governance but perhaps due to the experimental nature of projects Labs tend to operate behind closed doors. The Northern Ireland Innovation Lab has commissioned an evaluation of its activities and governance that will enable Labs to share good practices and pitfalls in order to advance and consolidate knowledge.” - Dr Anna Whicher, Head of Design Policy, PDR

As a result of the evaluation, four impact case studies have been developed. For example, although there are multiple factors at work, an investment of £60,000 in the Lab’s Medicines Optimisation project could result in cost savings of over £20m per annum. Consequently, a series of recommendations have been made to capitalise on the Lab’s expertise, achieve further impact.

“We hope that the evaluation will provide impetus for other Labs to share good practices and lessons to create a community of practice from which we can all benefit.” - Malcolm Beattie, Head of NI Innovation lab

In a very tangible way, the Lab is already contributing to two significant NICS agendas – the Programme for Government (PfG) and engaging citizens and stakeholders in quality public consultation.

“One of the problems we have in policy development is direct citizen engagement. Involving citizens in the policy process is standard practice but we do not necessarily achieve quality citizen engagement. Our desired representative user groups find it difficult to participate in the formalised consultation meetings we usually hold. The methods used by the Lab have transformed our collaboration with citizens and stakeholders to genuinely co-create policy and services; not just tick a box.” - Project Sponsor, Department of Health

The Northern Ireland Public Sector Innovation Lab is uniquely positioned to drive more transparent and inclusive public decision-making. The Lab has considerable added-value both in monetary terms evident from the return on investment but also for transforming the interface between the NICS and the public.

You can view or download the evaluation report here: 


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