Types of Living Labs

Living Labs are not unique to agriculture, and they come in many forms. The different contexts and the different histories and traditions of those involved in them mean that the theory and practice behind Living Labs is still evolving.

For example, Schuurman et al. (2013) proposed a fourfold categorisation of Living Labs based on a literature review and validated by an empirical investigation of the characteristics of 64 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Living Labs from the European Network of Living Labs [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (ENoLL).

The four types they defined were:

1. original ‘American’ Living Labs
2. Living Labs as extension to testbeds
3. Living Labs that support context research and co-creation with users
4. Living Labs for collaboration and knowledge support activities.

This categorisation highlights something of the history of Living Labs. They were first talked about in the USA in the 1990s where some researchers created home-like settings in laboratories to study the behaviour of individuals over periods of time (the original American Living Labs). An example might be to test out smart technologies but in a more controlled setting than a real house.

The concept has since evolved over the years, beginning in the early 2000s, and particularly in Europe (helped by the fact that the European Commission has been placing an increasing emphasis on the importance of multi-actor and transdisciplinary projects). One of the key elements of more recent Living Lab experiments or tests is that users are studied or involved in their everyday ‘real-life’ settings instead of in a recreated natural context in a laboratory setting.

This evolution has led to three other types of Living Lab depending on the extent of differences in the purpose and processes involved. Firstly, Living Labs that are an extension to test beds are like the original Living Labs but where the data gathering is done in a real-world setting and with some involvement from users and stakeholders.

The next category (number 3 in the list above) is more project focused with the research and co-creation work leading to initial testing and validation of innovation over a limited period.

The final type is less focused on testing and more on knowledge sharing amongst a community that sustains itself over time. This process of knowledge sharing in a community has also been called knowledge brokering as described by Sandra Šūmane and Tālis Tisenkopfs of the Baltic Studies Centre in Latvia (see Box 1.2 below).

Box 1.2 Knowledge brokering

AgriLink Practice Abstract 13: Knowledge brokering: facilitating innovation and joint learning

The concept of knowledge brokerage was developed in the context of linking research, policy and practice. It refers to a set of activities and processes aimed at exchanging and translating diverse individual knowledge stocks into collectively shared knowledge and innovations. Up until the 1990s, knowledge brokering was interpreted primarily as a linear transfer of scientific ‘ready-to-use’ knowledge or technology from researchers and advisors to farmers.

However, it has gradually been recognised that innovations leading towards more sustainable agriculture often emerge from, and are best advanced by, multi-actor learning networks where people from different contexts and with different backgrounds meet, interact and negotiate. Consequently, knowledge brokering is currently seen as an activity aimed at enhancing interactions, dialogue, mutual learning and direct collaboration between a range of actors, including farmers.

Agricultural advisory services can take a central role in this process by facilitating connections and knowledge exchange among various stakeholders for joint learning and innovation. Research suggests that knowledge brokering works best within a participatory approach to so-called boundary objects that are issues of interest to several different communities but viewed or used differently by each of them.

More information on this topic can be found in this AgriLink Theory Primer on Knowledge brokering, network learning, transition from ‘advisor’ to ‘facilitator’.

So, in summary, we can elaborate on the earlier typology list as follows:

1. Original ‘American’ Living Labs (a laboratory made to resemble the real-world for research on a small scale focusing on behaviour).
2. Living Labs as extension to testbeds (environments within which users and stakeholders can collaborate in the creation and validation of services).
3. Living Labs that support context research and co-creation with users (environments aimed to support innovation processes focusing on the early development phases of needs analysis and early design).
4. Living Labs for collaboration and knowledge support activities (a focus on collaborative platforms, knowledge sharing and community development).

This is one typology based heavily on ICT-focused Living Labs. While Leminen et al. (2012) made their typology focus around which actor drove the activities (utilizer-driven, enabler-driven, provider-driven and user-driven), Zavratnik et al. (2019) have reviewed how Living Labs have operated in rural areas.

More work on Living Labs is being done all the time, but the work so far, and the work of ENoLL in general, has drawn out some key characteristics of Living Labs.

Living Labs and knowledge

The key elements of Living labs