Energy and Environmental Policy Innovation in a Bottom Up World
We are a policy innovation lab based at the University of Colorado, Boulder. We work with partners around the world to develop and support real-time policy experiments, establish robust networks for learning and exchange, and contribute to effective and durable policy outcomes.

Approach

Mission

Our goal at LEEP is to develop and support real-time policy experiments, robust networks for learning and exchange, meaningful processes for stakeholder engagement, and durable policy outcomes.

We start from the premise that bottom-up approaches to climate, energy, and environmental problems must be the foundation for any lasting solutions. Much of the hard work and many of the most important policy experiments aimed at tackling these problems are taking place at subnational levels. The challenge is to connect, replicate, scale, and learn from these efforts.

Our theory of change starts from the premise that subnational governments (including states and provinces, counties and districts, cities and municipalities, and communities and villages) are critical actors in the effort to fight climate change, promote clean energy, and build durable frameworks for environmentally sustainable development. We believe that effective solutions to many of our energy and environmental problems must be public-private in character and that, in all cases, they must fit with and grow out of vernacular institutions. To that end, we focus on mobilizing and engaging political leaders, empowering civil servants, and connecting them with civil society partners in a manner that will advance integrated and equitable approaches to sustainable development.

Strategy

We embrace a network approach to governance. We work to thicken the relationships between government, civil society, and the private sector in the regions where we work while also forging broader connections with ongoing policy initiatives and processes around the world. We work across scales, seeking to promote vertical and horizontal policy alignment. And we ground our work with ongoing policy experiments in a recursive approach to learning and knowledge management.

We believe that some of the most important policy experiments are happening in places far removed from national centers of business and government. We want to understand and support these experiments because we believe that they hold important lessons for other similarly situated places. One of our goals is to establish a distributed platform of satellite labs in places that are already innovating – and that are often far removed from the metropolitan centers of political and economic power – and to connect these efforts to other sources of support and financing to reduce the risks of policy experimentation.

We recognize that we live in a world of fast policy – one in which policy ideas are often quickly disembedded from their original contexts and diffused around the world without any critical assessment of their effectiveness. We believe that this can sometimes constrain bottom-up policy innovation by promoting a model of policy adoption and diffusion that does not fit with vernacular institutions. We want to understand better the dynamics of fast policy and we want to harness and tame it in ways that will promote better and more durable policy outcomes in real places.

Activities

LEEP’s major activities can be divided into three categories: (1) real-time policy experimentation; (2) analysis, support, and knowledge management; and (3) education and exchange. All of our major projects seek to combine elements of these three activities. And in everything we do, we are committed to the fundamental importance of idea work—creative, outside-the-box thinking that feeds upon and reinforces our work with ongoing policy experiments, opens up new opportunities for education and exchange, and facilitates new approaches to learning.

Real-time Policy Experimentation

LEEP is premised on the idea that process is policy and that experimentation is the key to successful policy in a world of uncertainty. We look for conditions of possibility, for places where interesting things are happening, where creative idea work is underway, and where collaborative processes are taking hold. We start with the concrete and operate inductively. Policy innovation is what emerges out of these processes. We focus on supporting and understanding how this happens in particular places – often in unpredictable ways. All of LEEP’s projects are directly involved in or connected to real-time policy processes. And all of them are also designed as experiments, with particular attention to measuring and learning from results. We believe that a recursive approach to policy design and problem solving is much more realistic in a bottom-up world and much more conducive to developing effective solutions and lessons for other ongoing processes.

Analysis, Support, and Knowledge Management

LEEP supports all of its ongoing projects with research and analysis. Working with our partners at the University and around the world, we bring lawyers and policy analysts together with natural and social scientists to develop truly interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. Each of our projects is approached not simply as an intervention in the world, but also as an experiment that offers important opportunities for learning and innovation. Dedicated research teams and knowledge management programs will be developed for each project to harness lessons and provide analysis on an ongoing basis. In everything we do, we seek to understand and translate the practical skills and tacit knowledge that government officials, civil society leaders, and business people use in their everyday approaches to problem solving. We believe in this respect that effective policy innovation must rest on a deep commitment to local ownership, bottom-up mobilization, and citizen engagement.

We also seek to embed a critical data design element into all of our projects. Using state-of-the-art data analysis and visualization techniques we take the qualitative and quantitative data that our projects generate and turn them into new tools for learning and knowledge management. LEEP brings natural and social scientists together to think differently about global challenges that desperately need thoughtful and timely solutions. Housed in the Sustainable Energy and Environment Complex (SEEC) at the University of Colorado (CU), LEEP's projects give academics a place to test their theories through interactions with the people who work on these issues in their daily lives, and give practitioners a place to draw upon important and valuable analysis, insight, and thoughtleadership.

Education and Exchange

LEEP promotes learning that transcends cultural, geographical, and disciplinary boundaries. Our home base at the University of Colorado allows us to draw from expertise across academic departments while our global reach allows us to learn from and collaborate with colleagues and practitioners around the world. LEEP is committed to bringing people together to make sure that learning gets translated back into action. Each of our major projects will have a bi-directional education and exchange component wherein LEEP staff and University researchers will be embedded in activities on the ground while local researchers and policy entrepreneurs from our projects will come and spend time at the University.