The Swedish EPA developed smarter policy instruments with positive effects

We used an approach in the policy lab which enabled us to produce smarter policy instruments with positive effects for more people and which will make it simpler for politicians to make decisions.

Sebastian Dahlgren Axelsson, Innovation Strategist at the Swedish EPA, is highly satisfied with the authority’s first trial of the tools and methods they worked with in Vinnova’s policy lab initiative.

How did you find out about Vinnova’s policy lab initiative?

- I was in a seminar at Vinnova, where they spoke about their policy lab initiative, and I found it interesting.

In what way did you feel that the Swedish EPA could benefit from working in a policy lab context?

- When we develop proposals for new policy instruments and policies, this involves a great deal of theoretical analysis. When we gather opinions, we often do so on a trade organisation level, and even if in many cases they offer general opinions, which are useful, we seldom reach the parties that the proposal impacts directly. This is a weakness that I realised we could avoid by working with a policy lab method. Of course, a key premise of the work is to develop new ideas and solutions based on the users’ needs.

“This way of working has given us so much. We need to get better at going and talking to the actors affected by our proposals at an early stage, before it is time for the full proposal to be circulated for comment. If we adopt an iterative approach before the consultation phase, we can develop smarter policy instruments which have positive effects for more people and which are thereby easier for politicians to make decisions on,” Swedish EPA’s Sebastian Axelsson explains.

How have you worked with policy lab to date?

- We talked about Vinnova’s policy lab initiative in our workplace. A colleague who is responsible for a government commission which involves proposing measures to reduce plastic littering saw the value of working in this way. We decided to test the concept within the commission and received help from Vinnova to draw up a structure. They also helped us to procure a design agency which assisted us in the actual implementation.

How did the first project go?

- Really well. We started in May and finished in September. We had a total of ten work meetings lasting a couple of hours each, punctuated by tests, observations, in-depth interviews and experiments in order to constantly test our hypotheses and move forward.

What was the result?

- We have a number of ideas that we haven’t had time to immerse ourselves in, so we’ll have to see how we progress from here. But we also have two policy instrument proposals, which have been developed and tested via in-depth interviews. We will develop, refine and include these in the final report for the commission, and I’m quite sure that they would not have emerged if we had worked in the same way we usually do, because we wouldn’t have come so far or had the time to speak with so many affected parties.

How will you continue to work with what you have learned from the work with policy lab?

- This way of working has given us a great deal, but it takes quite a lot of time and it’s not financially viable to enlist the help of a design agency every time we want to work like this. For this reason, we will now present our experiences internally whilst also attempting to find new forms of working that enable us to do this ourselves. We need to get better at engaging with the actors affected by our proposals at an early stage, before it is time for the full proposal to be circulated for comment. If we adopt an iterative approach before the consultation phase, we can develop smarter policy instruments, which have positive effects for more people and hence are easier for politicians to make decisions on.

Last updated 21 February 2019

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