In the dynamic landscape of Research and Innovation (R&I), Living Labs have emerged as essential incubators for innovation, especially in the context of Horizon Europe and the larger European Union. These collaborative spaces, which combine cutting-edge solutions and real-world settings, are central in helping the future of R&I and shaping how societies use new approaches and solutions in everyday settings developed under the EU Initiatives and projects in various domains such as circular food solutions, digital agri-approaches and even alternative proteins.
Living Labs as Crucial Pillars in Horizon Europe Projects
Testing and validating ideas is a crucial step when developing solutions, and user acceptance and utilization tick the top of the list. Living Labs emerged as an idea, a process, and an environment that supports an approach to understanding and dealing with the phenomena of R&I. These innovation ecosystems actively involve end-users, stakeholders, and communities in the co-creation process, ensuring that solutions are not only technologically advanced but also socially and environmentally relevant making them region-unique.
Following the concept’s first emergence in the 1990s by Professor William J. (Kidd et al., 1999), the European Commission has used the Living Lab notion for numerous initiatives. The European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) was established in 2006 as a platform to encourage the establishment of Living Labs and to improve networking amongst them once they were established in order to come together. Presently, ENoLL serves as a knowledge transfer gateway, bringing together over 480 active labs from across Europe. Today, the idea of a living lab, gives projects a flexible and comprehensive viewpoint to address societal issues and unlike the more academic approach that predominated in the past, it is becoming increasingly crucial for the EU to involve citizens and local communities in R&I. As Europe aims to be at the forefront of global innovation, these incubators provide a unique competitive advantage. By nurturing a culture of continuous learning, adaptation, and resilience, Living Labs contribute to Europe’s position as a leader in sustainable and impactful innovation.
Living Lab Pillars for Accelerating R&I
As Living Labs operate as intermediaries among citizens, research organisations, companies, cities and regions for joint value co-creation, rapid prototyping or validation to scale up innovation and businesses they create some clearly identifiable benefits for communities.
Collaboration, Co-Creation and Open Innovation
The emphasis on teamwork that Living Labs places on is one of its distinguishing characteristics. Through the integration of many stakeholders, these idea hot spots foster an environment that is conducive to interdisciplinary exchanges and multi-actor engagement. By combining different viewpoints, this collaborative approach speeds up the invention process and produces inclusive and efficient solutions.
Real-World Testing for Impact
Living Labs incorporate real-world contexts (such as location, materials, operating time frame etc.) into the innovation process, pushing the limitations of conventional research facilities that are often viewed as “sterile”. Using a hands-on approach guarantees that innovations are not only theoretically sound but also practically viable by allowing researchers and developers to test ideas and prototypes in context-specific and community-unique environments.
Community Engagement and Empowerment
Beyond their technical contributions, Living Labs are instrumental in fostering community engagement and empowerment through capacity building, skill development, iterative feedback gathering, co-creation workshops, and outreach activities. By involving local communities in the innovation process, these labs create space for active ideation and cross-checking. This inclusive approach not only popularizes innovation but also ensures that the solutions developed address the specific community targets.
Living Labs in the INCiTiS-FOOD project
A core part of INCiTiS-FOOD are 8 living labs located in 6 countries across 3 African regions: East: Kenya; West: Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone; Central: Cameroon, Gabon. These Living labs are turned into incubators and accelerators of circular innovation that will be used beyond the project’s duration. For more detail on our Living Labs please visit the Knowledge Hub.