What is a policy hack?

A policy hack is a tool for developing policies intended to solve specific challenges. Participants – grouped into teams and supported by mentors – examine these challenges and develop the features of a proposed solution, via a well-designed, facilitated learning experience.

What are the benefits of developing policy tools via a hack?

The benefits of a policy hack are collaboration and validation. A policy hack is a collaborative way of developing a policy. It brings together teams of startup ecosystem representatives who ‘hack’ a specific idea or concept in an effort to solve a pre-defined problem, including the ultimate beneficiaries—entrepreneurs. It is also an opportunity to validate a policy idea or concept, testing the features and coming up with a better defined way to address the problem, receiving feedback along the way from a variety of stakeholders.  



What makes the SNS Policy Hack unique?

The policy hack at the Startup Nations Summit (SNS) has special features which reflect the global nature of the Summit audience and its main theme -- the difficult challenges that digital disruption brings to the public sector in its role to set the rules of the game for entrepreneurs and innovators.

The key characteristics of the SNS Policy Hack are:

  • You bring the challenge: Unlike traditional policy hacks where challenges are chosen by a committee of organizers, the SNS Policy Hack recruits participants who bring to the table a specific challenge they are facing in their home ecosystems, along with an idea of how to address such challenge.

    For example, a policy hack team leader may wish to develop a framework for opening up government data for entrepreneurs in X or Y sector. Another hack proposal could involve designing a process to facilitate access to public procurement for innovative startups.

    The problem that you will solve will not be a surprise to you but there will be a challenge presented by organizers: refining and validating the proposed solution via government-enterprise dialogue.

  • More than a one-day event: Policy hacks traditionally present challenges to the teams only on the day of the event itself. The SNS Policy Hack, however, requires that participants engage in portions of the Hack before and after the Summit in Tallinn. In fact, participants must come with a minimum level of preparation in order to maximize the value and return home with a workable solution.
  • Opportunity to experience a new approach to policymaking: To address the challenges of digital disruption, government cannot act in isolation. The SNS Policy Hack invites participants who are interested in designing new approaches to experience multi-stakeholder dialogue that is open, collaborative and output-oriented.

    Participants will be exposed to the concept of regulatory sandboxes (see below for more about these) which are being rolled out in a number of countries that are actively grappling with the conflicts and regulatory misalignments that naturally arise when traditional industries, such as transportation, health care, education, banking and more are suddenly disrupted by innovative new players.

  • Real outputs: The SNS Policy Hack is not just an intellectual exercise. Startup Nations is year-round platform for entrepreneurship policy advisors who are active in policy development in their countries. The SNS Policy Hack is calling for applicants who are committed to implementing their solution when they return to their countries.


What to expect from the SNS Policy Hack experience?

The SNS Policy Hack format aims to take innovative policies from the idea phase to proof-of-concept. It does so by a number of interventions prior to, during and after the Startup Nations Summit. All activities will be conducted in English.

  • Prior to the Summit, participants are exposed to detailed knowledge about how the SNS Policy Hack works, as well as exposure to the “regulatory sandbox” approach to policymaking and other innovative policy tools related to the problem area they chose to tackle.

    These activities will be carried out online via discussions and webinars (mandatory), as well as an in-person workshop (optional) if the participant is able to attend one offered by Startup Nations or its partners in various locations around the globe in the months leading up to the Summit.

    During this stage, SNS Policy Hack participants will engage in various hands-on exercises that include interaction with the Startup Nations Atlas of Policies, for which the policy idea entry form was developed in collaboration with the World Bank to help policy actors think through various dimensions of entrepreneurship policymaking.

  • At the Summit, policymakers, entrepreneurs and experts will come together in teams on Day 2 of the Startup Nations Summit (November 22, 2017) to brainstorm in various formats of government-enterprise dialogue.

    After refining the policy idea through collaboration and multi-stakeholder dialogue, the teams will pitch their policy solution to a panel of expert judges.

    Regardless of the final result, participants will walk away from the Startup Nations Summit with a proof-of-concept to take back home and further refine and implement through the same approach experienced at the hack (i.e. regulatory dialogue).

  • After the Summit: For the six months after gathering in Tallinn, SNS Policy Hack participants will have the support of mentors to take the proof-of-concept and start developing a regulatory sandbox. There will also be opportunities to share the implementation experience at future international events.


What happens if my policy solution “fails”?

The SNS Policy Hack is a dynamic process, a set of activities to help you brainstorm and improve solutions to policy problems by designing policies together with representatives of the startup ecosystem.

While the solution you proposed in your application may fail to pass the validation process at Startup Nations Summit or back home, like startups, you will have mentors to help you pivot your policy idea, or discard it and move on to a new solution.

Regardless of the outcome, the SNS Policy Hack will expose participants to the process of designing a regulatory sandbox which can foster more innovation into regulated sectors.


Who else will be Tallinn for the SNS Policy Hack?

At the Startup Nations Summit overall you will see policymakers from 60+ countries and promising startups come together for three days of activities.

For the SNS Policy Hack, we have received applications from 10+ countries across four different continents. We will accommodate no more than 15 policy proposals. For each policy proposal, there will be an assigned team of:

  • Team leaders: These are selected applicants who will benefit from the process of fine tuning their specific policy idea.
  • Expert team members: These 4-5 team members will be recruited from the Startup Nations policy network and its knowledge partners, based on their experience in dealing with similar policy issues.
  • Mentors: SNS Policy Hack mentors have experience with different formats of government-enterprise dialogue. If you are interested in joining the body of mentors for the SNS Policy Hack, please email



What is a “regulatory sandbox”?

A regulatory sandbox is a form of dialogue between regulators and companies. The aim is to work together to unleash innovation within a specific industry. A regulatory sandbox creates a "safe space" in which entrepreneurs can test innovative products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms in the context of regulation, with regulators.

Regulatory sandboxes are not about deregulation but rather an approach based on a two-way regulatory dialogue between an entrepreneur and an approachable regulator. For a more detailed description of this approach to policymaking, click here.  

For concrete examples, please view how the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK has designed their regulatory sandbox program. Another example is by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, who have a dedicated page and materials.


Why experiment with a regulatory sandbox?

A regulatory sandbox facilitates entrepreneurial innovation by mitigating risk on both sides – government and business. A sandbox enables anyone developing a disruptive product, service or business model to understand exactly what the rules and requirements will mean for their startup before they launch their innovation in the market.

Another advantage of a sandbox approach is that it enables real-time impact analysis. From the government perspective, this ensures that the innovation is not going to undermine safety and robustness of a sensitive sector like financial services or connected transport.


What is in it for companies?

Before launching a service or product, companies need to test whether a new venture will be feasible in terms of regulatory compliance. Engaging in a regulatory sandbox brings down costs and risks involved in that testing.


Do I need to have a regulatory sandbox already set up in my country to participate in the SNS Policy Hack?

No. You are not expected to have a regulatory sandbox set up. What you need is an idea or a concept of how you would like to build a regulatory sandbox – and just be motivated to take this policymaking approach back to your government.


What if I have a regulatory sandbox running and I would like to test it on startups?

The SNS Policy Hack in Tallinn is not designed to recruit companies into a sandbox.



Is there a fee to participate in the SNS Policy Hack?

Applying and participating in the Startup Nations Summit and SNS Policy Hack is free of charge, including pre-Summit online discussions and webinars, as well as mentorship during and after the Summit.


What expenses should I plan for if I wish to participate?

We encourage you to plan for your travel expenses to Tallinn, Estonia, including obtaining a visa if required for your nationality.

Startup Nations Summit co-hosts have a limited number of flight and accommodation slots to distribute based on the fit of the proposed policy solution with the Summit theme. You will be advised if you were selected for one of these when you are notified of the decision to accept your participation in the SNS Policy Hack.


Do I need to be a member of the Startup Nations policy network to apply?

No, the application is open to all interested entrepreneurship policy stakeholders.




The Startup Nations Summit and SNS Policy Hack are made possible thanks to the support of the following organizations: