The GovLab


Improving people's lives by changing how we govern

Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice. Kurt Lewin, 1945

Our Mission

The Governance Lab (The GovLab) strives to improve people’s lives by changing how we govern. We endeavor to strengthen the ability of people and institutions to work together to solve problems, make decisions, resolve conflict and govern themselves more effectively and legitimately. We design technology, policy and strategies for fostering more open and collaborative approaches to governance and we test what works.

Our Hypothesis

We believe that when institutions open themselves to diverse participation and collaborative problem solving, those institutions are more effective and the decisions they make are more legitimate.

Three Types of Open

Shared Governance

Institutions devolve or share power over activities traditionally performed by the institution or empower outsiders to help develop solutions themselves.

In each case, we want to understand what works to improve people’s lives and what the conditions are for success.

Living Lab

We call the GovLab a Living Lab because we are committed to action-oriented research that models new ways of governing and tests their efficacy in real-world settings. We combine solving real world problems with rigorous research.

How We Work

The Living Labs convene leaders of institutions and communities who want to implement more open and collaborative decision-making, and bring them together with researchers who want to study those projects and their real-world impact. We work with an international network of advisors to design our projects and develop experiments for evaluating them. We always work with at least two institutional partners to ensure that results inform a more general blueprint for opening government.

Our Design Principles

Living Labs on Smarter Governance

Many hands make light work. Many hands together make merry work. Jeremy Bentham

At the Governance Lab at the Wagner School of Public Service of New York University, we are studying “smarter governance” – how institutions can seek input to inform how they solve problems and make decisions. We want to explore whether targeting opportunities to participate based on people’s expertise – not their credentials alone but also their wisdom, know-how and experience – might make it possible for institutions to work with citizens more collaboratively to the end of solving real problems, and improving people’s lives.

We are testing and analyzing how mayors and CEOs alike can leverage new tools and techniques to find those with formal training and informal know how. We want to learn how we can engage citizens and community members better who are more likely to contribute their talents in ways that speak to their passions and abilities. Through experimentation with real world institutions we want to identify when and how crowdsourcing wisely, rather than just widely, works and why.

We are striving to understand:

Living Labs: Smarter Governance in Action

The GovLab Living Labs include several projects on Smarter Governance that study new tools to involve experts and the public in decision-making on important issues. We are using new methods to identify “who knows what” and target our requests for participation to those mostly likely to be helpful. Knowing whom to ask isn’t enough if the responses are neither relevant nor manageable. Crowdsourcing platforms simplify the process of asking and answering questions effectively. Prizes help create the incentive for insightful enthusiasts to emerge from the woodwork and complement the contributions of experts.

The GovLab Living Labs has various projects on Smarter Governance underway:


Interested in collaborating with the Living Labs? Send us an email