Policy innovation labs are emerging knowledge actors and technical experts in the governing of education. The article offers a historical and conceptual account of the organisational form of the policy innovation lab. Policy innovation labs are characterised by specific methods and techniques of design, data science, and digitisation in public services such as education. The second half of the article details how labs promote the use of digital data analysis, evidence-based evaluation and ‘design-for-policy’ techniques as methods for the governing of education. In particular, they promote the ‘computational thinking’ associated with computer programming as a capacity required by a ‘reluctant state’ that is increasingly concerned to delegate its responsibilities to digitally enabled citizens with the ‘designerly’ capacities and technical expertise to ‘code’ solutions to public and social problems. Policy innovation labs are experimental laboratories trialling new methods within education for administering and governing the future of the state itself.