About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Y Lab: a new public services innovation lab for Wales

Devolution has led to policy divergence across the UK on a broad range of public services.

With transferred powers to the National Assembly for Wales, the principal political aim for Welsh public services has been a drive for raising standards through greater collaboration rather than marketisation and competition, together with a strong theme of fostering citizen voice.

The growing differences across Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland create a series of natural policy experiments. The four administrations can apply different approaches to very similar policy and public service challenges. Notable examples include free prescriptions, the plastic bag levy and opt out organ donation.

Differing service models permeate the whole public services system, but many of the challenges faced are common - budgetary pressures, demographic shifts increasing demands, inequality. These issues impact public services in similar ways regardless of which administration they fall under, which is why there are great opportunities to learn from alternative solutions to similar problems.

The Welsh Government created the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW), which is also supported by the ESRC as a What Works Centre, with a remit to support ministers to identify their evidence needs and and provide access to independent authoritative expertise to meet those needs.

But what do you do if what you’re looking to do is truly ground-breaking? How can you be sure that what worked in a different country, with different context will apply for your service area? If you’ve done something on a small scale, what confidence do you have that it will scale up successfully? How can you learn from elsewhere or do something different to make public services cheaper, better, faster?

Y Lab

These are some of the questions that Y Lab[1] has been created to help answer. Alongside Cardiff University, and working with the Welsh Government, Nesta has established a public services innovation lab for Wales. Where there is good existing evidence PPIW makes this available to Ministers. Where there isn’t good evidence PPIW will refer ministers to Y Lab.

Y Lab, will combine Nesta’s deep understanding of promoting innovation across the UK with Cardiff University’s strong research base. This is core business for Nesta, and Y Lab will draw on the extensive experience gained in other parts of the UK.

It’s a significant development for Cardiff University too, further enhancing the impact of its social sciences research centres, and forms part of the university’s wider plans to create a social sciences park to boost innovation in Wales.

Y Lab's mission is to work closely with practitioners and policy makers to develop and test civic and public service innovations in a safe space. It will prototype and trial scalable innovations in areas such as health, education and poverty, drawing on state-of-the-art tools and techniques from digital development to behavioural sciences.

It will exploit the ‘small-country opportunity’ of Wales to interact closely with government, public services at national and local level, practitioners and citizens, in the spirit of co-production. Our aim is for Y Lab to act as a catalyst for front-line innovation by others.

We’ll bring together a diverse team from across Nesta, Cardiff University and elsewhere to adopt a prototyping, experimental approach to some of the major challenges facing public services in Wales and:

  • generate new knowledge on successful public service innovation;
  • develop and test new solutions to major public service challenges;
  • build innovation capacity within the Welsh public sector by modelling and demonstrating different methods in action;
  • apply learning from elsewhere in Wales.

Y Lab has been formed to act as a bridge and broker, connecting policy makers and public service practitioners with research and innovation expertise.

We’re aiming to start our first projects later in the year but if you’re keen to find out more in the meantime, you can get in touch at [email protected]

[1] Y lab: pronounced "Uh Lab" is Welsh for The Lab


Simon Brindle

Simon Brindle

Simon Brindle


Simon was the Director of Y Lab, Nesta's partnership with Cardiff University, for a public services innovation lab.

View profile