Northern Ireland – policy lab or isolation unit?

The Alliance for Useful Evidence has recently published a fascinating report on Devolution as a Policy Laboratory, looking at the potential for the separate devolved administrations in the UK to act as venues for experimental approaches to policy development and delivery – or policy labs.

Report front cover
Devolution as a Policy Laboratory

The report identifies issues around willingness to share evidence across different – and competing – political realms, where there may not even be agreement on high-level strategic objectives. The policy sphere in the North of Ireland has many difficulties, but the report notes the absence of a What Works Centre (we’re the only jurisdiction without one) and recommends that work continues to explore the potential to establish one here.


For those working outside or alongside government – in the arts or community and voluntary sectors, for instance – any improvement in the evidence-base for policy and strategy here should be welcomed. (The next Programme for Government will, it’s believed, take a more outcomes-based approach to priority-setting for the Executive.)

But this may not be without its difficulties. What resources will be required to define and gather evidence with useful

bearing on the specific policy challenges facing the North? Will stakeholders understand and support a drive to question and if need be jettison established policy positions if evidence shows that they ‘don’t work’?

Something to keep an eye on and get involved with…

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