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How to run a “bottom-up” policy development workshop - BETA

The reality of policymaking can often be laborious, lengthy and involve lots of compromises along the way. But good policymaking should begin with engagement with those who are likely to be affected by the end policies.

Last week, we ran a experimental policy development workshop for digital social innovation with the European Commission in Brussels (you can read our blog about the day here). In the workshop we brought together a group of folk including experts, practitioners and local, national and EU policy makers, that often don’t get a chance to meet

We thought that we’d share the process and the materials that we used at the workshop (and then tweaked afterwards based on feedback). They’re in BETA, so all views on how to improve them are welcome.

We hope that this approach will encourage policy-makers to go beyond the more standard approach of deploying consultation documents and encourage the policy-related events that do happen to be much more participative in the generation of potential ideas. A more user-centred approach to policy-making, if you will.

The BETA “Bottom-up” policy workshop toolkit:

Step 1: Get a wide range of people in the room. It should include practitioners, industry representation, academics and policymakers.

Step 2: Start with live case studies from practitioners – people who run services and who know what the problems/challenges/opportunities are. Make sure they represent a sample of the type of practice you are developing policy for and that they focus their presentations on what is important for people in the room? As an example, we asked each of our case studies to each prepare a five minute presentation covering the following:

  • Project background, including key facts (such as when you were founded, turnover, number of users, size of organisation, employees etc)
  • What are you trying to achieve with your service, including any evidence you have of impact.
  • Opportunities and challenges:
  • What really helped you get your project of the ground and scale up your work
  • What are the biggest barriers you face and how to address them (through policy? Funding?)
  • If you could make three changes to EU national or local policy and funding mechanisms to better support projects like yours, what would they be?

You can read an example of one of the presentations here. It is important that you leave at least 50% of the time for participants to ask questions from the presenters.

Step 3: Frame the development process. Highlight that there are a range of different policy tools to draw on (Laws, regulation, money, standards, skills) and give some sector-specific examples of policies that created a favourable impact. Point out that they don’t all have to be big ideas or need to be expensive to implement, and acknowledge the often serendipitous innovation that emerges. (e.g. DARPA led to the creation of the internet, the R&D funding at CERN led to the invention of the Web) Encourage people to think about:

  • Who could implement it (European Commission, national governments, municipal etc.)?
  • Who will benefit? What are the barriers? who are the enemies of the idea?
  • Does it need money?
  • What work needs to be done to flesh it out?

You may also want to promote the importance of evidence-based policy-making as a continual process of understanding what works (and what doesn’t) and that often policy is about encouraging behaviour change (for more on this see the brilliant BIT website).

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that policy may not be able to solve some problems (Not all policy-makers accept this). For example, often huge amounts of value can be created by industry bodies working to develop better standards or terms of trade that don’t need governments to get involved at all.

Step 4: Identify the problems/opportunities. We asked everyone in the room to individually complete this template (download it here) to quickly generate ideas:

Step 5: Cluster the ideas together. For a room full of 50+ people, this needs about an hour. We recommend that the workshop facilitator does this over a lunch break. With a diverse group of people in the room, you are naturally going to get a very diverse mix of ideas. Cluster them by the main problems they are trying to address.

If you get more ideas than you have working groups, you can ask participants to ‘dot vote’ on ideas and choose the most popular themes for the working groups.

Step 6: Get people into smaller groups to discuss the clustered ideas and further develop the best one or two. This should take approximately 45-60 minutes. Appoint a facilitator to keep the conversation focused and a rapporteur to report back at the end. We reckon 5 is the minimum number of people needed. More than 12 and you’ll struggle to let everyone have their say.

Step 7: Plenary. Ask people to report back to the re-convened workshop. Prime some attendees to give a response to the ideas presented. We asked actual policymakers to give their responses to ideas and we also asked the presenters to give their feedback.

Finally, test out with the people who presented case studies in the morning to check the ideas are useful.

Step 8: Summarise the Day and issue a call to action. Encourage people to take their ideas forward. We’re using Your Priorities as a platform to promote the ideas to others. You might want people to pledge some action. We asked attendees to write their pledge for how they’ll develop their thinking on digital social innovation and told them we’ll email their pledge back to them after 6 months. (this keeps people on their toes and allows us to re-engage with them after that time).

Step 9: End on a high. Thank everyone of course

All through the process, remember the golden rules of running workshops – find engaging presenters with useful information for their audience, lots of participation, encourage networking focus on action and good coffee.

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Jon Kingsbury

Jon Kingsbury

Jon Kingsbury

Director, Creative Economy Programmes

Jon led the inter-disciplinary team that designs, commissions and delivers multi-million pound innovation programmes that help the creative and digital economy.

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Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Peter leads work that explores how combining human and machine intelligence can develop innovative solutions to social challenges.

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