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Living Labs as a Collaborative Framework for Changing Perceptions and Goals

Co-VAL > Blog > News > Living Labs as a Collaborative Framework for Changing Perceptions and Goals
living labs

admifIn the Public Deliverable D5.1 ‘Report on cross-country comparison on existing innovation and living labs’, Lars Fuglsang and Anne Vorre Hansen from Roskilde University describe various applications of living labs to decision-making. The basic two examples are living labs as a collaborative framework for changing perceptions and goals and living labs as an ecosystem for policy innovation.

Living labs can involve a change in mindset and goals as expressed in one paper on public sector innovation labs (Carstensen & Bason, 2012). Carstensen and Bason (2012) report the important story of the Danish Mindlab (2002-2018) – a cross-governmental innovation lab involving public sector organisations, citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society. They argue that innovation labs foster collaboration since labs are platforms where multiple stakeholders can engage in interaction, dialogue, and development activities. Innovation needs a different approach than everyday activities and a change in mindset and culture shift of employees towards thinking more systematically about innovation. Mindlab’s methodologies are anchored in design thinking, qualitative research and policy development, with the aim of capturing the subjective reality experienced by both citizens and businesses in the development of new solutions. Carstensen and Bason (2012) list the following key principles of Mindlab: take charge of on-going renewal, maintain top management backing, create professional empathy, insist on collaboration, do – don’t just think, recruit and develop likeable people, don’t be too big, communicate.

Also, Buhr et al. (2016) show how living labs can be important for developing and implementing collective goals and creating new opportunities for citizens to influence public affairs. They describe two cases in two suburban areas (located in Sweden and Finland), where the living lab approach was used to improve the feeling of belonging in a community. In one of the two suburbs studied, participants used a living lab approach to change the lightning on a pathway that seemed unsafe; and in the other case, participants followed a living lab approach to strengthen the social community by renovating a kiosk and organizing varied activities for the citizens. Both living labs motivated the residents to work on societal goals for sustainability and choose solutions. The study indicates that a living lab approach can strengthen support for change and thereby increase the citizens’ appreciation of a local area. Further, living labs may give citizens a feeling that they are being listened to. Living labs can thus create opportunities for citizens to develop the city together with municipal policy-makers and other stakeholders and enable policy-makers to respond to the expressed needs of the citizens.


Researchers also see living labs as part of a wider ecosystem of policy innovation, which is difficult to linearize and control; citizens have varied capacities for participating and stakeholders, such as small firms or employees in the public sector, may lack resources or time for participating. Moreover, there may be insufficient institutional support for interaction and innovation within a living lab and in a wider societal context.

Van der Graaf and Veeckman (2014) conducted a case study analysis in the city of Ghent of a living lab that invited citizens to participate in the development of mobile services to access data from the city. While they found that administrations can co-design public services  together with citizens, they also found that the toolkits had to be aligned with citizens’ capacities. They conceptualize this as a dynamic co-creation ecosystem in which citizens may participate depending on their capacity to participate. The study indicated varieties of citizen participation by highlighting differences in the creative capacity of citizens and in the contributions they were able to make, guided by the provided design hub.

A living lab may also contribute to changing an ecosystem by influencing the local governance structure. Reiter et al. (2014) take a governance perspective on living labs. They argue that the governance challenge related to living labs is to empower citizens’ role in governance through participation in living labs. Living labs can help repair ‘innovation system failures’ (they report a case of environmental governance). Such failures include insufficient interaction among stakeholders, missing or inadequate institution for innovation and path dependency, i.e. the tendency of the actors to stay within the existing paradigm of innovation. Thus, a living lab introduces new ways of innovating by creating an institutional context where stakeholders can interact in order to develop innovations. Yet, the challenges of the living labs are:

  • to get stakeholders to take an interest in the local context of governance,
  • to define a governance purpose, i.e. define a “common goal”, and
  • to find a way to sustain the local governance.

Hence living labs have been investigated as relating to the governance structure and ecosystem of a local community, as they seem to empower and motivate citizens to participate in innovation activities and decision-making. On the other hand though, living labs face many challenges in their effort to mobilize citizens who have different capacities and motivations to participate.


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


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