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Introduction and guidance

Introduction and guidance

Welcome to this free course, Creating innovative agricultural advisory services through a Living Lab. It is an outcome of the EU-funded AgriLink project which ran from 2017 to 2021. The goal of AgriLink (Agricultural Knowledge: Linking farmers, advisors and researchers to boost innovation) was to stimulate transitions towards more sustainable European agricultures by:

a) furthering the understanding of the roles played by a wide range of advisory organisations in farmer decision-making

b) enhancing their contribution to learning and innovation.

One part of the project was to run six Living Labs across seven different European countries to test whether the Living Lab approach boosts the development of innovative services for farmers. So, in our Living Labs, we developed real innovatory support services for agriculture. This course encapsulates the main processes and findings from the collective experiences of those Living Labs as well as using or drawing upon many documents and publications produced by the project.

The course is divided into eight sessions, with approximately one hour of study for each session. So, allow at least ten hours overall to complete your studies. You can work through the course at your own pace; you can do one session per day or week, or you can push on to complete the whole course in a day. Whatever approach you use, we recommend that you plan your studies carefully.


There is a glossary of key terms and their definitions available for your information.

Throughout the course, these glossary terms are also highlighted in the text. When you click on one, a definition for that term appears.

You can find examples of this in the next paragraph – design thinking and systems thinking.

This course may present you with challenges. You may be unfamiliar with Living Labs and the approaches covered such as design thinking and systems thinking. You may not have studied via online or distance learning before. You may also have your own personal expectations of what you want to achieve through studying this topic. You may want to study with colleagues rather than on your own. Some of the questions you have about Living Labs may not be answered until the final session or until you start working on one yourself. But this course does provide you with the first steps in your learning journey.

By studying this course, you shouldn’t expect to be able to go straight out and set up a Living Lab, but it should give you an in-depth introduction to them and prepare you for further planning or study, if that is what you are interested in doing. Indeed, that is why this course uses many self-reflective activities where you can try to ground your studies within your own professional practice and experiences of working in agriculture or agricultural advisory and support services, or indeed a related setting or context. But equally, we have an end-of-course quiz to test your understanding of some key ideas and concepts around Living Labs.

Remember that what we expect you to have learned having studied this course is set out in the learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes

By completing this course, you will be able to:

  • explain how Living Labs can contribute to the provision of innovative agricultural advisory services

  • describe the AgriLink approach to Living Labs

  • apply and interpret design thinking and systems thinking methods and tools

  • assess and develop your facilitation practices, including running a blended course using the Living Lab Trainers’ Handbook

  • understand how to monitor and evaluate the operation and outcomes of a Living Lab

  • plan your own approach to establishing a Living Lab to provide an innovative agricultural advisory service.

Use your Activity Record on this course

Everything that you type into the free text boxes throughout this course can be downloaded or printed as an Activity Record at any point durning this course.

You access this Activity Record through the My Profile button (click on the blue button at the top of this page).

In this way, you can create a downloadable or printable version of your inputs throughout this course.

Reflective Activity 1 – What do you hope to learn?

Now that you have read the introduction and the learning outcomes we have set for this course, what are you hoping to gain from studying it? Write down your initial thoughts in the text box below.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The activity you have just engaged in is the first of several such activities. It is an example of a pattern of activities that constitute reflective learning. This style of learning is based on the notion that the understandings most useful to us, and that most readily become part of us, are learned by experience or by comparing what we are learning to our previous knowledge and experiences.

The activities are designed to enable you to discover your own learning by experience. That is a familiar idea, but it implies two activities: learning and experiencing. Both activities need to happen if we are to say that learning from experience has happened. Experiencing seems to have two components. The first is the quality of attention that allows me to notice the experience and its components. The second is memory. Calling experience to mind allows me to examine the experience and to think about it in ways that were not possible at the time. Learning is what I take away from that process that influences my behaviour or thinking in the future.

So, I cannot know what previous knowledge and experiences you are bringing to this course, but I assume they have a lot to do with innovation in agriculture and agricultural advisory services in some way. By making explicit your hopes based on your experiences, you should also be able to keep a record of what new things you are learning and whether they do address those original desires or not.

As the course does give pointers to much more information on certain topics, it gives you an opportunity to follow up on the things that most interest you in doing whatever you do around innovation in agriculture and agricultural advisory services.

One of the things that you may want to do after studying this course is to use it, or parts of it, to support some face-to-face teaching of others.

If so, there is an accompanying Trainers’ Handbook that gives suggestions of how you might do that.

In addition, there is an accompanying Living Lab Toolbox that provides details of how to use certain tools and techniques that are discussed in the course.

Now go to the next section.

Moving around the course

At the bottom of each page, you will see a link to the next page. Equally, at the end of each session, you can find a link to the next session. If at any time you want to return to the start of the course, click on ‘Course content’ in the menu on the left. From here you can navigate to any part of the course. Alternatively, use the session links at the top of every page of the course.

Keeping two windows open on this course

Throughout this online course you activate links that navigate you away from the main learning pathway on to a side path of related content. It is recommended that you hold down the Crtl button on your keyboard and click on the link to open the side path in a new window.

In this way, you can keep this learning pathway open in one window and view the new side path content in a separate window.

Acknowledgements on authoring and course content

This free course was put together by Andy Lane from The Open University in the United Kingdom but has been designed with, and drawn upon the work and writings of, many colleagues in the AgriLink consortium.

The authors of specific writings are identified when they are used in the course, but I also want to acknowledge all those AgriLink colleagues who have worked directly with and in the six Living Labs at some point through the project and whose collective work is captured in this course:

Raluca Barbu Highclere Consulting Romania
Chris Blackmore The Open University United Kingdom
Marianne Cerf Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique et Environnement France
Giulia Cesarin Vinidea Italy
Kevin Collins The Open University United Kingdom
Cosmina Dinu Highclere Consulting Romania
Emils Kilis Baltic Studies Centre Latvia
Gunn-Turid Kvam RURALIS Norway
Hanne Leirs Innovatiesteunpunt Belgium
Cristina Micheloni Vinidea Italy
Jorieke Potters Stichting Wageningen Research Netherlands
Melanie van Raaij Innovatiesteunpunt Belgium
Herman Schoorlemmer Stichting Wageningen Research Netherlands
Dalija Seglina Baltic Studies Centre Latvia
Noelia Telletxea Institute for Agrifood Technology and Infrastructures of Navarra Spain
Irina Toma Highclere Consulting Romania
Javier Torrecilla Institute for Agrifood Technology and Infrastructures of Navarra Spain
Egil Petter Straete RURALIS Norway
Jacqueline Ulen Stichting Wageningen Research Netherlands
Davide Zimolo Vinidea Italy

This course is a deliverable from one part of a project that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727577.

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

Go to Session 1: Living Labs