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  • Geoff Mulgan

Designing future public institutions

This month sees the launch of a new initiative focused on designing public institutions. It's called The Institutional Architecture Lab (TIAL) and grew out of a realisation that there were no centres of expertise in the design of new public institutions, whether at the level of cities and regions, nations or globally. While there are hundreds of centres focused on business design, there was nowhere to turn for a government seeking to create something new.

With my colleagues Juha Leppanen and Jessica Seddon, I've been developing (with some initial support from the Rockefeller Foundation) a programme of work which includes engagement with various governments on live projects; developing tools and frameworks for anyone to use; and sharing ideas on theories and concepts.

Our website - - contains these, and will also include many case studies of interesting recent examples from around the world.

I'm helping to organise an event for the UK - in May - which will focus on Britain's priorities for new institutions; and we hope to shortly announce a global partnership.

I've also published a longer paper on which describes how new institutions can be designed, proposing elements of a discipline that, like buildings architecture, can bring together theory, practice, interdisciplinarity and critical thought.  Its premise is that the world badly needs new institutions to fill crucial governance gaps – from decarbonisation to mental health, data to AI.   These gaps have grown in recent decades – partly the result of ideological aversion to creating new public organisations, and an often-misplaced faith in markets; partly the result of diminished political confidence; and partly the result of a lack of good thinking on how exactly to design such institutions to make the most of contemporary values, tools and technologies.

The paper makes the case for thinking in terms of ‘meshes’, ‘multiple centres’, ‘outside-in’ methods and new approaches to voice. It suggests ways of thinking about design – from thinking in terms of assemblies to analogies with developments in architecture which has partly shifted away from the grandiose megalomania of some 20th century buildings towards attention to context, environment, lightness and more.

The primary goal is to help in the design of institutions for the transitions ahead – to a zero-carbon world, to handle inequality, ageing, democratic distrust and a world of powerful AI. The paper suggests some institutional needs, from energy transition funds to urban transport systems overseers, data guardians to fair pay funds (it does not cover the related, important – but distinct – question of how to change existing organisations). 

We are on the hunt for collaborators, examples, useful theories and evidence and more!

Institutional Architecture Jan 2024
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