What is a living lab?
A living lab (LL), in contrast to a traditional laboratory, operates in a real-life context with a user-centric approach. The physical and/or organisational boundaries of a living lab are defined by purpose, scope, and context. The scope, aims, objectives, duration, actor involvement, degree of participation, and boundaries of a living laboratory are open for definition by its participants. A living laboratory could thus be established on a street, in a house, within an organization, or include a whole city or industry, depending on the project.
The notion of living laboratory was first proposed by Prof. William Mitchell at MIT Media Lab as a research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real-life contexts. However, contemporary definitions of living laboratories are broader and somewhat diffuse. Nevertheless, the following elements tend to be core features of a living laboratory:
- Experimental approaches in real-life context
- Participation and user involvement
- Collaboration and co-production of knowledge
From a methodological perspective, today’s living labs are networks composed of heterogeneous actors, resources, and activities that integrate user-centred research and open innovation (Leminen et al. 2012). From the infrastructure perspective, they can be seen as facilities that enable experimentation and co-creation with users in real-life environments (Sundramoorthy et al. 2011).
Leminen (2015) cites four types of living labs: Utilizer-driven, Enabler-driven, Provider-driven, and User-driven. As part of a publically-funded project with a regional concept, the FISSAC living labs fit the Enabler-driven model, characterized by:
- Strategy development through action
- Building of a network around a region/project
- Collection and use of information and co-creation of knowledge within the network
- Guided strategy change in a preferred direction
Even though each living lab is unique, there are suitable methods and processes to use throughout the construction and operation of a living lab. These seek to support greater understanding of complex problems, prototyping, validating and refining solutions.
Why organise living labs?
When approaching complex challenges that exist in an evolving real-life context it becomes very hard for a single actor to find the right solution. By collaborating and co-creating the solutions with end-users and other actors involved, the complexity and uncertainty is reduced and the chance of finding a sustainable solution is increased. Research shows that living labs with network structures based on extensive knowledge and information exchange and collaboration between multiple actors lead to radical innovations, while living labs with centralized network structures tend to achieve more incremental innovations (Leminen, 2013).
Living Labs within FISSAC
Within FISSAC nine regional living labs will be established with their own defined purpose and scope. The living lab leaders will engage actors from the construction industry value chain to identify appropriate challenges related to industrial symbiosis in their regions. Through purposely designed meetings their collaborative knowledge and experience will then be used to understand how these challenges can be addressed.
The efforts of the different living labs are coordinated by Research Institute of Sweden AB (RISE). RISE provides the regional leaders with advice on how to establish living labs, managing co-creation processes, methods and tools.