The design experiment is an experimental research method that aims to help design and further develop new (policy) instruments. For the development of a set of guidelines for the facilitation of citizens’ initiatives by local governments, we are experimenting with this method. It offers good opportunities for modeling interventions by testing their instrumental validity –the usefulness for the intended practical purposes. At the same time design experiments are also useful for evaluating the empirical validity of theoretical arguments and the further development of these arguments in the light of empirical evidence (by using e.g. the technique of pattern matching). We describe how we have applied this methodology in two cases and discuss our research approach. We encountered some unexpected difficulties, especially in the cooperation with professionals and citizens. These difficulties complicate the valid attribution of causal effects to the use of the new instrument. However, our preliminary conclusion is that design experiments are useful in our field of study.