Work in progress

Four ways our Policy Lab is testing creative approaches to policy development

From mosaic-making to circus arts, Martin Smith, Head of Policy Lab at Wellcome, shares four projects we’re partnering with to inspire creativity in our policy work.

A young woman is mid air, arms and legs pointed out straight, back arched – she almost looks like a superhero. A group of four people stand below her, arms outstretched ready to catch her (presumably they have thrown her into the air as well). Several other people stand around the group, poised and ready to support if needed. It's a well rehearsed routine. The whole performance is taking place on a stage in what looks like a conference centre. A large blue backdrop reads, 'what if? what next? what now?'

Picture of acrobatic performance at 2022 Understanding Risk Conference (UR2022)


Trovoa Filmes

Licence: All Rights Reserved

Martin Smith

Listen to this article
Four ways our Policy Lab is testing creative approaches to policy development
Elapsed time:00:00Total time:00:00

In February, we launched a search for organisations who share our enthusiasm for experimentation in policy work.  

We were looking for ways to pilot creative tools or methods for policy development and inspire us to think differently about our work at Wellcome.  

This isn’t about rejecting tried-and-tested policy methods such as roundtable discussions and expert consultations. Instead, we’re exploring whether adding creative approaches to our policy toolkit could help us generate different types of policy insight and maximise our impact.   

From approaches that break down barriers to participation in policymaking to those that imagine possible futures or think differently about a policy problem, we were blown away by the response.  

We’ve had many fascinating conversations with people since and have been able to connect with organisations who share our enthusiasm for testing more creative policy approaches.

The four pilot projects we’re supporting 

The four projects we’ve selected cover a mix of methods, contexts and policy topics. And they all share our appetite for trying something new and bringing together expertise and innovative approaches.

Our support will help our partners to evolve and expand approaches they have experimented with before and test them in policy contexts that are aligned to Wellcome’s mission.    

Serious games and simulation to break down barriers in mental health policy  

Thumbi Labs and the Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy will pilot the use of a storytelling game and simulation to inform policy discussions on local governance and mental health in India.

They will explore how person-centred approaches can be used to ensure the participation of people with lived experience of mental health problems in the policymaking process and build understanding of these perspectives among local policymakers, such as village councils and on-ground officials.

The tools, which are designed to cut across barriers of literacy, language and socio-economic status, will be piloted with diverse stakeholders in rural and urban communities in the state of Chhattisgarh, India.  

Collaborative mosaic-making to visualise and explore complex policy issues  

Scientia Scripta will lead a coalition of partners to trial collaborative mosaic-making to help open up policy discussions between stakeholders at a national and local level in the UK. They will use this method, which uses materials collected from beaches, to create an open and unintimidating environment for participants to visualise complex issues and share their ideas and expertise.

The team will be evaluating the method at different stages of the policy development process and on different policy issues, in partnership with University College London, Manchester Metropolitan University and Policy Connect. 

Humour and circus arts to think differently about the climate crisis  

An interdisciplinary team at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre will test ways to harness humour, circus arts, and other innovative approaches to help reshape policy dialogues on the mental health impacts of climate change.

Research and the team’s previous experience have demonstrated how effective creative participatory tools can be in stimulating engagement, spurring new ideas and fostering collaboration. The project aims to build on this by using ‘serious fun’ at global policy events and conferences to disrupt usual ways of thinking and drive climate action. 

A ‘Tomorrow Party’ to imagine climate and disaster-resilient futures to unlock new solutions 

Monash University researchers are developing a futures method called the Tomorrow Party. Working with the Fire to Flourish project, this pilot will specifically engage with community-led disaster recovery and resilience in Australia.

Using innovative props, ‘party’ inspired accessories and expert facilitation, participants will co-create an experience that will invite them to share stories and picture themselves and others in future climate-related scenarios. By creating more informal spaces for discussion and spontaneous connections, the team hopes to surface new insights that inform future policy responses to the climate crisis.  

What do we hope to learn? 

We’re really excited by the range of different projects we’ll be supporting.

There will be plenty to learn about the challenges and opportunities of using creative policy approaches with different stakeholders and in different contexts, as well as lessons about the different methods themselves.

The four pilots will be run independently by the successful teams, but we will be actively engaging throughout the project.

By the end of the pilots, we hope there may be some methods (or elements of methods) that we are inspired to use in our own policy projects in future. But more broadly than this, we hope that we come away with a better understanding of what it takes to experiment in policy work and an ambition to do so ourselves.   

What's next? 

We will be sharing what we learn along the way and once the pilots are complete, we plan to bring them all together at a Policy Lab event in 2024.

We hope this event will be a space for the teams to showcase what they did and what they learnt, as well as an opportunity to bring together others interested in this space to talk about creativity in policy.

  • Martin Smith

    Head of Policy Lab


    Martin Smith leads Wellcome's Policy Lab, which aims to bring creativity and innovation to our policy products and processes.

    Connect with Martin: