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Living Labs for Co-Innovation In Public, Private And Civil Sectors: A literature review

Co-VAL > Blog > News > Living Labs for Co-Innovation In Public, Private And Civil Sectors: A literature review
girl reading a book

In the Public Deliverable 5.1 ‘Report on cross-country comparison on existing innovation and living labs’ Lars Fuglsang and Anne Vorre Hansen from Roskilde University investigate the concept and method of innovation and living labs, and how living labs and other participatory and experimental methods are used to enable value co-creation based on co-innovation of public services.

The literature speaks of both living labs and innovation labs. For the purpose of this report, L. Fuglsang and A. Vorre Hansen chose to focus on the concept of living labs as it captures co-innovation and co-creation activities across stakeholders and sectors better, while innovation labs tend to have a narrower focus.

The review shows that the living lab phenomenon is a complex concept that is broad enough to pull together and be meaningful to diverse supporters in different contexts. The literature points out a need for an experimental setting and a safe space for stakeholder involvement and public sector co-creation and innovation, but to what extent actors are willing to or can benefit from this involvement, or what the risks are, is not clear from the literature.

Group of people reading and borrowing books

The literature as a whole describes living labs as integrative contexts or spaces for co-creation and innovation. Living labs have at least two main characteristics: they are close-to-reality phenomena (the ‘living’ part of living labs) while at the same time they are separate from everyday activities (the ‘lab’ part). As labs, they remove pressures, risks and ethical concerns related to innovation from day to-day activities in public administration. However, as close-to-reality phenomena, they aim to draw on everyday experiences and actors’ interests and perspectives.

The literature review revealed 4 different tasks that living labs can carry out:

Exposing and/or appropriating innovation in a user context

Exposing and/or appropriating innovation in a user context


Co-creating innovation with stakeholders


Co-researching innovation with stakeholders


Democratising innovation

Furthermore, the literature speaks of 3 types of living labs environments:

  1. semi-realistic environments
  2. real-life environments,
  3. networks or community environments

Other main findings from the review are:

  • Living labs have emerged in the context of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) but have spread to other areas of public service, including health services as promising contributions to public value co-creation.
  • The literature describes living labs as innovation intermediaries (triple/quadruple helix), as an open innovation methodology and as a contemporary phenomenon.
  • Only a few studies apply the term citizens in the definition of a living lab.
  • There is little explicit focus on the public sector as more than an actor on the same terms as businesses and civil actors.
  • None of the studies are clear in regard to what sort of value is created and for whom.
  • No specific definitions of living labs are used consistently in the literature. Living labs appear to have similarities with other experimental innovation frameworks (e.g. participatory design), but the boundaries between them seem to be somewhat blurred and need to be specified.
  • The concept of the user as co-creator often seems vague as living labs refer to a great variety of different users in many different contexts. Consequently, current living lab activities involve the design of many specific practices. The people involved are not users but are better conceptualised as practitioners or stakeholders with different interests. Whether their interests are promoted through living labs is unclear.
  • Living labs are also described as ‘third places’ that are not always well-integrated with community developments and practices.
  • Finally, there is little emphasis on the evaluation and impact assessment of living lab activities.

The report suggests that there is a need to redefine the understanding of living labs to better reflect how living labs are being put into practice currently. Thus, the report redefines the concept as follows: Living lab is a conceptualisation of multi-contextual and cross-sectorial experimental user-centric innovation processes with the aim of developing and/or improving welfare products, democratic engagement, services or processes based on the application of co-creation methodologies depicted by transdisciplinarity.

Read the D5.1 Report on cross-country comparison on existing innovation and living labs here.


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