Meet the New Practice Lab: Where Policy and Delivery Converge
April 6, 2023
The New Practice Lab engages actively in a new approach to policy design that is rooted in the experiences of real families. We call this the New Practice, where policymaking puts people at the center of programs, starts small and scales for impact, and leverages data to track progress and monitor both what's working and what doesn’t.
Much of public policy making today relies on data that is evaluative of past programs and policies. There is not a standard process for understanding what a new or innovative policy might actually achieve once implemented. Instead, creating new policy often depends on educated guesswork by well-meaning policy makers, lawyers, and economists.
How might things look if different types of experts were brought into the room to inform the policy team on real needs of the impacted population and on what is technically feasible when working to target needs with truly effective policy? These user research and technical experts could then provide data in real time as the policy rolls out to allow for iterative improvement that drives toward desired outcomes. That’s the premise the New Practice Lab was built on.
Policy Meets Design
The New Practice Lab sits at the nexus of policy making and delivery, with deep expertise in both areas. Our staff includes past private sector leaders in design, product, and data science, as well as former career civil servants and political appointees who have served under Republican and Democratic administrations, all of whom know a lot about making the government more consumer friendly and customer oriented.
To properly meet complex needs, the Lab engages actively in a new approach to policy design that is rooted in the experiences of real families. We call this the New Practice, where policymaking puts people at the center of programs, starts small and scales for impact, and leverages data to track progress and monitor both what's working and what doesn’t.
Starting Small and Iterating on Success
Our work primarily begins with delivery-focused partnerships, or sprints, that apply leading methodologies from the technology and human-centered design sectors to center firsthand insights from those who use the public services to improve the delivery of existing benefits. Sprint teams bring together technical and policy experts to ensure problems are fully explored and recommendations for improvement are practical and well considered from all angles.
The Lab’s deep, in-house expertise in policy means that we can then carry forward everything learned from sprints and family research into the rooms where policy is made. In this way, those who have the pen on new policies can consider how new and existing systems and processes may be affected by the policy itself. This intentional approach avoids past implementation mistakes, and can save tax dollars in turn.
Applying the New Practice to Paid Family Leave
In late 2019, the Lab engaged alongside the State of New Jersey on a 4-week discovery sprint focused on improving the delivery of their Paid Family and Medical Leave program. The four-member sprint team had expertise in communications, user research, procurement, data science, and program administration, and was able to make targeted, actionable recommendations, such as revising consumer materials and launching a ‘paid leave wizard’ as a front door for applicants.
The Lab took key learnings from New Jersey and other implementation efforts and worked directly with lawmakers in Connecticut, who were in the process of drafting their own paid leave bill. Key solutions to barriers New Jersey originally faced, such as required data sharing across agencies, were enshrined in Connecticut’s law from the beginning. Connecticut’s Chief Performance Officer talked about the role of the New Practice Lab in this important work:
“When we were passing paid leave in CT, we asked the New Practice Lab team to review the bill. Their expertise and feedback on what worked and didn't work to implement paid leave and other social programs was invaluable. Based on their insights, we made several important changes to what is the paid leave law today that would make it easier to implement and to meet people where they are.”
- Dave Wilkinson, State of Connecticut’s first Chief Performance Officer
What’s more, the Lab has since published a summary of the findings learned from New Jersey and Connecticut to make them available to all other states that undertake effective paid family and medical leave policies.
Operating in this back-and-forth feedback loop between delivery and policy allows us to achieve more transformative goals, faster. No longer does policy making need to rely on outcome data years after crafting a policy. With the New Practice Lab’s combined approach of equal parts policy and human-centered design, the distance between policy makers and the populations they are seeking to impact grows smaller all the time.
In deploying this repeatable approach to public problem solving, we aspire to live in a nation where all families with young children thrive. We believe things can work better than they do today, and are working to redesign a government that lifts up families, especially those who struggle most.