Reflections from my time at HMRC’s Policy Lab

I have had the pleasure of working on various exciting projects with teams of talented people. My career has allowed me to work at all ends of the design spectrum, from pre-discovery to live services and everything in between. As a result, I’ve learned much over the years and enjoy sharing best practices. This post reflects on my time working at HMRC’s Policy Lab and the exemplary practices they foster there.

Policy Lab is a pre-discovery team at HMRC, where the vision is:

  • Have a user-focused approach ensuring that policy is feasible, meets its intent and delivers value for money
  • Put people at the centre of policy-making, to bring the best understanding of how policies might impact on people and government.
  • Help policy makers shape policies making it easier for people to meet their obligations and to maximise government efficiency.
  • bridge the gap between government and citizens using creative tools and collaborative techniques to enhance conventional HMRC policy design
Source: Policy Lab vision

Qualifying clients

The Policy Lab has built an excellent reputation for helping policy colleagues understand challenges and aiding them in thinking through options that meet policy intent. 

To maintain quality of work, Policy Lab strives to ensure they partner with teams that are bought into UCD ways of working to drive the right outcomes. Clients open to exploring the problem space and ways of meeting the policy intent are the ones Policy Lab want to work with. Faye Churchill and the team have done an excellent job creating a methodology to qualify clients and potential projects to ensure this happens. 

To assess a project’s suitability, Policy Lab scores potential new projects to help decide if it is the kind of project they should work on and if the challenge presented is something they could add value to.

Projects where stakeholders have a fixed, unchangeable view of a solution, are rejected. This might be a luxury for some teams, but it demonstrates maturity and ensures Policy Lab can provide expertise where it will be most beneficial.

I recommend contacting Faye to learn more about the evaluation method used at Policy Lab. Faye is lovely, and I’m sure she would be happy to talk through the team’s process. 

Why qualifying clients is a good idea

Design teams want to work in areas where they can add the most value. For example, in pre-discovery, a client only seeking validation for a project and one that isn’t open to hearing from their users and the people their potential service affects isn’t going to get as much out of working with a Policy Lab team as one that is open to learning.

Getting feedback after a project

As well as evaluating a project before they take them on, the Policy Lab team also conduct research to gather feedback at the end of a project. A researcher separate from the project team always leads the feedback session – as there’s less value in marking your own homework.

Having a third-party conduct the evaluation also means that stakeholders should feel freer to be open with their thoughts and opinions. This evaluation asked the stakeholders open questions and gathered scores from closed questions. This learning is fed back to the project team during the project wrap-up activities. Excellent scores and feedback were always well received, and poorer scores were a learning opportunity for the project team and the broader Policy Lab team, so we could all learn from each other. 

Why getting feedback on a project is a good idea

We all like to feel that we’ve done an excellent job. Evaluating a project’s progress (both within the team and by asking the clients) helps teams reflect and do even better next time. 


Taking time to choose the right project, rejecting projects that aren’t suitable, and evaluating the outcomes of projects help to build quality and, in turn, reputation for a team. It is something I advocate for and recommend that more teams adopt.

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