PPL Turns 10! 🥳

So, It’s Been 10 Years!

At 3:48 p.m. on February 24, 2011, a staff member in the Division of Corporations at the State of New York’s Department of State stamped FILED on a certificate of incorporation. (Maybe their name was Tyler? the signature is hard to read.) The Public Policy Lab was officially born.

In the decade since, PPL has tackled the challenges Americans face when using public services. As a nonprofit innovation lab for the public sector, we’ve collaborated with major municipal, state, and federal agencies that have true authority over delivering public value. We’ve also worked with major philanthropies, CBOs, and advocacy organizations.

Most crucially, we’ve spent thousands of hours with New Yorkers and other Americans across the country — the humans using the policies and services we’ve been tasked with redesigning. We seen again and again that individuals are valuable experts on their own experience, particularly when they have racial, class, gender, or other identities underrepresented among sources of institutional power. And we’ve learned a great deal about what it takes to shift power inside systems.

Still, We’ve Got Questions

It’s only fitting that our moment of creation was a stamp on a form in a government office. Over the past decade, designing policy and programs with and for low-income and marginalized communities, our working life has been forms and offices and Tylers and Tylers’ boss’s boss and the IT department and, oh, also better talk to Legal. The work has been deeply satisfying and also deeply frustrating.

In the past 10 years, there were moments when we weren’t sure we’d make it. There were moments when we wondered if we even should bother trying.

It’s not that we thought we were doing low-value work. Rather, the changes we were able to create still felt trivial when we reconciled them against the larger systems in which they operate.

As a team, we often examine our potential (and limitations) and reflect on the fundamental tensions in our work. Is it okay that our design process is profoundly serious while also feeling like play? What does it mean to serve and do right by people dealing with poverty and systemic inequality — who maintain extraordinary generosity with us in the face of their hardship? How do we ethically engage with vast and underperforming public systems when we only have limited power to produce change?

The Existential Couch (remember when we could sit on couches together?)

Thinking Out Loud

In the Before Times, these conversations often took place on Friday afternoons on the Existential Couch (read: an actual grey IKEA couch in our office). Now we’d like to have these conversations out loud, in the open, with you. Perhaps you’ve had these questions too?

Over the course of 2021, we’ll be writing at least one blog post per month — and hosting virtual conversations in our Public Policy Blab event series — highlighting the following topics:

We’ll share how we’ve changed our practices over the years, from how we interact with disempowered communities to how we interact with each other.

We’ll mine the project archives to showcase moments that have confronted and confounded us — or brought us great joy and satisfaction.

We’ll riff on the next ten years. We’ll share theories of change and identify systems that are ripe for reform (and explain how we’d go about reforming or replacing them).

See You Next Month

You can expect a new post from us on the first Tuesday of each month, so be sure to check in on March 2nd.

We’ll also be publishing these updates in our newsletter, which will be going out on the third Tuesday of the month. Sign up here to get Public Policy Lab updates in your inbox!

Until then,



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Public Policy Lab

Public Policy Lab


The Public Policy Lab is a nonprofit innovation lab for government. We apply human-centered design methods to the challenges facing low-income people.