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The Boundaries Of Living Labs When It Comes To Innovation

Co-VAL > Blog > News > The Boundaries Of Living Labs When It Comes To Innovation
living labs, innovation

Given the many and broad definitions of living labs we previously discussed in our blog post ‘Defining Living Labs’, it becomes challenging to draw the exact boundaries around the living lab phenomenon vis-à-vis other innovation activities.

Lars Fuglsang and Anne Vorre Hansen from Roskilde University describe living labs as specific contexts for innovation. Even if they are framed as real-life environments (the ‘living’ part of living labs), they are in fact specific experimental spaces or settings (the ‘lab’ part) that enable some degree of experimentation with innovation in a ‘safe space’. Hence while they are creative and innovative units that draw on and combine everyday experience from real life, they are also specific settings and activities that remove pressure, risks and ethical concerns of innovation from the true real-life context of public administration. The value of the living lab context is drawn from the balanced combination of these two characteristics.

The literature makes some further distinctions that are useful for tentatively drawing the boundaries of the living lab phenomenon. However, there is no agreement in the literature about this, which suggests that the living lab approach is often contextually defined and emerged from practice.

For one thing, the literature distinguishes living labs from ‘scientific labs’ – and this is perhaps a common idea. Thus, Eriksson et al. (2005) make a fundamental distinction between the traditional scientific lab and the living lab. The traditional lab is seen as a single, controlled experimental context. A living lab is, by contrast, a multiple and emerging experimental context. Schuurman and Tõnurist (2017) argue for a distinction between ‘innovation lab’ and living labs. While the innovation lab focuses on the initial stages of an innovation process and involves cross-disciplinary teams, the living lab concept targets development and real-life experimentation and is a multi-stakeholder organisation.

Living labs are compared to other experimental innovation frameworks, yet the boundaries between these seem to be somewhat blurred. Some attempts are made to distinguish these phenomena. Ballon et al. (2005) distinguish between 6 types of tests and experimentation platforms (observed in the area of broadband innovation):

  1. Prototyping platforms (including usability labs, software development environments)
  2. Testbeds
  3. Field trials
  4. Living labs
  5. Market pilots
  6. Societal pilots.

They are all platforms that pull together various stakeholders in the innovation processes. However, they represent initiatives at different stages in the innovation and design process from low market maturity and prototyping to high maturity and societal impact. The living lab is a stage in between representing “an experimentation environment in which technology is given shape in real-life contexts and in which (end) users are considered ‘co-producers’”. Based on a number of qualitative cases of each type, it is shown that living labs score relatively high on six chosen parameters: openness, public involvement, commercial maturity, vertical scope (integrating the value chain), scale, and duration.

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


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