Headlines: February 21st, 2000

Prisoners are benefiting from a pilot learning lab that helps them deal with public services on their discharge from prison. The project is also designed to re-integrate them into the community and reduce the risk of re-entering the offending cycle.A commitment to set up learning labs was made in the Modernising government White Paper of March 1999 to drive forward schemes for involving and motivating staff. It is recognised that public servants often know how to overcome problems and inefficiencies but are held back by red tape and established procedure. Learning labs encourage the testing of new ways of working by suspending rules that stifle innovation. They operate successfully in the United States.

The learning lab in Stockton devised a public service module which was added to the prisoners pre-release course to help them understand entitlements and what to expect from their dealings with public services. Prisoners are also helped to prepare their own ‘personal passport’ which explains which services they need to go to and what to take with them. There is also a support network for ex prisoners.

Learning lab pilots are being developed by two local authorities. Birmingham City Council is using them to stimulate change and innovation throughout the organisation and innovation and cultural change are being developed in the Suffolk County Council lab. The Benefits Agency has a lab developing ways of working more closely with social services and Customs and Excise are using a lab to explore new ways of tackling cigarette smuggling.