Living Labs: An Intersection of Scientific Innovation

Here in the Science and Technology Innovation Program, we cover a lot of broad subjects under our little umbrella. We specialize in exploring the convergence of disparate technologies to illustrate how they can be interwoven – whether that be from serious games, biogenomics, citizen science or the Internet of Things (IoT).  From outside, our multi-dimension may seem disorienting, but in reality our different programs present a multi-faceted understanding of science innovation.  One way to see how these sundry approaches work together is through the phenomena of a “living lab;” a research concept with the ultimate goal of linking the scientific community to citizens with a desire to get involved.  

Living Labs in Smart Cities

A living lab is a user-centered, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a way that integrates current research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership. Think of it is as a space where users are immersed in a creative social space for designing and experiencing their own future. Living labs are natural sites of convergence, bringing together different approaches to solve real-life problems. By looking at living labs, we can see a space where experiential learning leads users to move from being traditionally observed subjects into creators and contributors to emerging ideas and breakthrough scenarios.  Here, citizens are active members in the scientific process.

These are most easily found and incorporated in smart cities; an urban development vision to integrate information and communication technology (ICT) in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets.  Through the use of sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, data is collected from citizens and devices, then processed and analyzed, to allow city officials to interact directly with a community in order to enable a better quality of life. Living labs share a fundamental principle with smart cities: that citizens are empowered to work for the betterment of their own quality of life, whether through data collecting, co-creating projects, or user-centered research.

Living Labs had their start at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the subsequent research consortium is now known as the City Science Initiative. Living Labs have grown and evolved into a global phenomenon, being most prevalent in the European Union, surpassing the United States’ thirty lab network with an impressive 150 active Living Lab members. Around the world a larger number of cities are pursuing components of smart city strategy with the most prevalent being in the USA, Europe, and Asia.

Far from the exclusionary connotation that accompanies the science lab, Living Labs are allowing people to participate in various capacities with numerous options for participation. One of the most interesting characteristics of Living Labs are their ability to allow for citizen innovation and stakeholder interaction in multiple facets.  Instead of being limited to a subject in a study at a university, participation is encouraged in all stages of the scientific process.

Gaming and Neighborhoods

Living labs are using serious games to maximize their impact. When I say “serious game” this means using a game platform as an educational tool. While games have been problematized in many fields, in living labs, games are used to create meaning in science context. Games can be used for engagement, and techniques in games can be used to engineer solutions to real-life issues. 

Projects like JamToday, a partner of ENoLL, the European Network of Living Labs, use game design principles to not only create useful and meaningful games, but to shape the context in which games can be most effective.  Their network brings together the people involved in the process of designing and implementing game-based approaches to learning, and offer the public the information and tools to get involved in a practical and meaningful way. In JamToday “competitions,” games are designed by experts and played by anyone from government workers to college students; anyone who has a passion for the topic and an interest in games. They focus on a different area each year, like improving communication skills, adopting healthier lifestyles, and supporting learning of math. JamToday aims to provide a bridge between different areas to guarantee the successful implementation of educational games across Europe.

Gaming and game principles are also being used in other areas to create an effective living lab. Dr. Anne Bowser, Senior Program Associate for our Citizen Science Program, and Dr. Elizabeth Newbury, Program Associate for our Serious Games Initiative, have been key partners in several BILAT USA 4.0 initiatives, highlighting work around smart cities that includes gamification principles.

One such project is the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL)’s “MyNeighbourhood” which aims to create an even smarter Smart City, that focuses on people and their relationships, ideas, and interactions. This will be rooted in an open portal that combines the data from existing informational apps like Foursquare and encouragement to help people get involved in their neighborhoods. The re-creation process of the neighborhood is developed by applying a living lab approach to publicize new methods for using information and communication technology to strengthen ties. MyNeighbourhood applies techniques like gamification, which is the use of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts, to resolve communal issues in neighborhoods. It uses new technologies and citizen-generated data to help re-create a lost sense of camaraderie rooted in common ties and personal interaction, and uses social mechanisms to build and reinforce meaningful connections between urban communities.

Gamification is a controversial term, but in Living Labs the principle is being used to ensure maximum interest, participation, and reach. BILAT USA 4.0 is already working to bring these principles to the United States, and if the method proves successful in garnering support and interaction, it could promote scientific literacy and engagement in a truly distinct way. If the goal is to reach more citizens and encourage participation in the practice of science, Living Labs and gamification could help the scientific community connect to an entirely new audience.

Citizen Science: Community Building

The EU is leading the way in understanding the relationship between living labs and citizen science. Citizen science is a form of active citizenship, which encourages behavioral change through science literacy, which is embedded in a changing society and policy-making landscape. The addition of citizen science’s byproduct, smart citizens, could strengthen the relationship between citizen science, smart cities, and living labs. Smart citizens make it possible for living labs to flourish through their science and cultural literacy.

Yet for the time being, there is little synergy between citizen science and smart cities initiatives, due to a lack of interoperability and reusability of the data and services that are developed in each project. In order to move ahead, the EU and the European Commission has proposed an increase in citizen participation by involving co-created regional test beds, using comparative studies, supporting citizen science and smart cities projects with new interoperability arrangements, and partnering with organizations like ENoLL to contribute to interoperability activities. Living labs could benefit immensely from the relationship between smart cities and citizen science, and the creation of an established shared set of studies and information could lead to incredible breakthroughs through the living lab model.

An example of a project trying to break through the barrier between citizen science and living labs is the SMARTiP Project, which aims to stimulate citizen engagement in becoming active generators of content and applications development to use and co-produce innovative Internet-enabled services within smart cities. In five test sites, Manchester, Gent, Cologne, Bologna, and Oulu, citizens work to help produce inclusive and efficient public services that can then be made replicable for deployment on a larger scale. The promise of an information society is to create new ways of empowering people to play a more equal role in governance systems through access to data services.

Smart citizens are the key to this, and many of the other initiatives previously mentioned. Living Labs need people who care about producing crowd-sourced scientific and technological content while remaining accessible.  The balance between accessibility and innovative is difficult for any initiative, and to fully take off in the United States, we need more smart citizens working toward these ends.

The Internet of Things and Living Labs

New projects and meetings support the development of a relationship between the Internet of Things and living labs. The Internet of Things, in this context, is the merging of physical and virtual worlds to create “smart” environments. One of the most important characteristics of smart cities is their dependence on the Internet of Things to connect the virtual and physical worlds, which opens new avenues for collective action and collaborative problem solving.

The User Engagement for Large Scale Pilots in the Internet of Things (U4IoT) is an endeavor that combines expertise including social and economic sciences, communication, crowdsourcing, living labs, co-creative workshops, meetups and personal data protection to actively engage citizens in large scale pilots.  Large scale pilots (LSPs) are goal-driven initiatives that will propose IoT approaches to specific real-life industrial and societal challenges in areas like smart living environments for aging well, smart farming and food security, and connected autonomous vehicles; areas with potential for living labs to encourage innovation and dialogue. U4IoT combines expertise from eight leading European partners from Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany; areas with experience using living labs for different projects.  They each bring their own set of skills in end-user engagement through crowdsourcing, co-creative workshops and meet-ups, and living labs to support engagement in the LSPs. U4IoT is aimed at garnering user and societal acceptance of IoT large scale pilots, and with this acceptance will come implementation in smart city infrastructure. 

Merging and Implementing

Living labs are most useful in places where there exists a given set of users that fit a unique need, or where the methodology is well-matched with the technologies that are being used. These places are most easily found in smart cities, where technological infrastructure is either widely accepted or already in place.

Living labs and smart cities are still most widely found across the European Union, with a few experimental examples in the United States. In order to embrace the merging potential of these two concepts and utilize them for the betterment of urban societies, a wider understanding and acceptance of these technologies needs to take place around the United States. There is still contention around “Big Data” and similar technologies being used to control aspects of people’s lives, which is a valid concern, but the potential benefits of these technologies and methodologies should not be ignored. Smart citizens have the potential to help change the world through Living Labs, and through this phenomenon, have a better control of their own lives and how technology will shape them.

Works Cited

"About MyNeighbourhood." MyNeighbourhood. Blog Active EU, 15 May 2013. Web.

"The Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI)." Digital Single Market. European Commission, 13 May 2015. Web.

Almirall, Esteve, Melissa Lee, and Jonathan Wareham. "Mapping Living Labs in the Landscape of Innovation Methodologies." Technology Innovation Management Review. Technology Innovation Management Review, 01 Jan. 1970. Web.

"Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS." European Commission : CORDIS : Projects and Results : User Engagement for Large Scale Pilots in the Internet of Things. European Commission, 1 Jan. 2017. Web.

Huotari, Kai, and Juho Hamari. "Defining gamification: a service marketing perspective." Proceeding of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference. ACM, 2012.

"Living Labs." National Living Labs Initiative. National Science Foundation, n.d. Web.

"OpenLivingLabs Home." Projects | Open Living Labs. European Network of Living Labs, 1 Jan. 2016. Web.

"OpenLivingLabs Home." What Are Living Labs | Open Living Labs. European Network of Living Labs, 1 Jan. 2016. Web.

Schade, Sven. "Focus on Citizen Science." Digital Earth. European Commission, 2015. Web.

Totty, Michael. "The Rise of the Smart City." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 16 Apr. 2017. Web.

"Why Jam Today?" JamToday. Jam Today, 16 Feb. 2016. Web.