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How living lab approaches are used for co-creation and co-innovation of public services

Co-VAL > Blog > News > How living lab approaches are used for co-creation and co-innovation of public services
living labs, public sector innovation

How do living labs evolve as organizational and institutional structures for innovation in real-life settings based on co-creation and co-innovation of public services? What are the future potentials of this specific approach to public sector innovation? These are the questions, which Prof. Lars Fuglsang and Dr. Anne Vorre Hansen from Roskilde University are looking to answer, in the Deliverable 5.2 ‘Report on Strategic Case Studies.

Our team focuses on the cross-case analysis of the 21 case studies across 9 EU countries, and more specifically on 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 overall finding of the cross-case analysis is that living labs have some specific characteristics relative to other experimental and inclusive approaches to public sector innovation. These are:

  • space/place matters as both a physical and mental framing of the innovation activities
  • organizational learning for all stakeholders is a key (side-)effect
  • living labs hold potentials for democratic engagement that reaches beyond developing the mere public service. Therefore, a living lab logic for public sector innovation is proposed.

Lars Fuglsang’s and Anne Vorre Hansen’s findings are based on the following analytical insights:

  1. Conceptual understandings of living labs

Most living lab cases legitimize themselves as platforms for multi-stakeholder involvement across sectors that enable open innovation:

  • Living labs are described as open innovation frameworks. As such, they differ from traditional top-down internally driven innovation processes that are normal in the public sector.
  • Living labs work with co-creational methods which often include design thinking approaches mainly as a way of engaging users or user perspectives in co-creation and innovation.
  • Living labs go further than design thinking by involving several types of relevant internal and external stakeholders in co-creational processes. Since the term living lab seems to be timely and popular, the cases do not show critical reflections concerning the living lab approach vis-à-vis other likely methods/ways of organizing.
  1. Living lab organizing

Living labs can be organized as a project, a special task, a private or non-profit organization or as a public unit. A living lab can be a separate task, function, or innovation process. A living lab can also be integrated with the organization’s daily operations. The association with the public sector therefore varies. Living labs often have a physical space, in some cases test facilities, even though several cases stress that the living lab is mainly an approach, which is why the physical room also serves a symbolic purpose.

  1. Actor roles

Citizens are perceived as the main actors and they are involved in different ways ranging from highly participatory to that of testers – when not being end users, front-end employees act as facilitators and in relationship-building/networking. Stakeholders, and also citizens, seem to play a minor role in project management and decision-making, despite taking an active part in activities initiated by the living lab.

  1. Methods applied

It is characteristic for living labs to apply a wide range of different participatory methods stemming from different disciplines such as design, anthropology, IT development and innovation. Thus, living labs are basically flexible methods, since the methods applied are chosen relative to the specific project or initiative – leaving plenty of room for tailor-made solutions.

  1. The notion of co-creation

Co-creation is perceived as a key aspect of defining and characterizing living labs, yet the way co-creation is outlined, as both mindset and methodology, differs. The cases also reveal that co-creation with users/citizens requires maturity and that the understanding of what co-creation should support, from democratic processes to process tools, influences the way the main actor is discursively constructed as user and/or citizen.

  1. Value perceptions

The inclusive living lab approach triggers contextual value creation for all actors, be they employees, owners, stakeholders, users, citizens or partners, even if the value gained differs. The Co-VAL team identified six value dimensions in the cases, people-centred value, administrative value, customer value, learning value, democratic value and systemic value creation.

  1. Innovation in the context of living labs

Most cases do not work with clear definitions of innovation. Nevertheless, innovation is at the centre and they all tap into different notions of innovation such as: organizational innovation, service innovation, social innovation and a category we call democratic innovation, in which case living labs are structures for developing democratic value.

  1. Performance measurement

Only a few cases work with structured evaluation or impact measurement, but for all of them, it is seen as an important point to prospectively pay attention to and develop. A key challenge in this regard, due to the tailor-made solutions that are inherently part of living lab activities, is to find a balance between generic evaluation tools and contextual assessment.

The authors conclude that the outlined potentials in the living lab logic should be further explored and conceptualized – especially since living labs are currently seen as highly legitimate approaches to innovation based on user and citizen perspectives. Additionally, among practitioners there is an urge to better describe and document both the activities themselves and the impact created. As the Co-VAL team mentions in their report, future research could thus develop conceptual frameworks and practical models to be assessed and evaluated by practitioners and policy-makers.

You can read the whole Report on Strategic Case Studies here.