Critical Living Lab Approach  

Last changed: 02 May 2023
Two women work in a crop field.

Living labs refer to real-world, real-time, society-science interfaces that represent arenas for learning and knowledge co-creation. A critical living lab approach mobilizes these science-society collaborations as means to experiment with novel processes, actor-constellations and practices otherwise often impossible to set up in typical urban settings. The value of a critical living lab approach lies the opportunities it creates for real change, by revealing and critiquing underlying operational mechanisms, thereby challenging the status quo.

Living Laboratories offer a welcome approach for change management and knowledge co-creation to influence sustainable futures. While living labs take many forms and are defined in different ways, they always reflect an interest in open research environments that explore society-science interfaces in real time.

Living Laboratories also share certain key characteristics. They contribute to urban transformation, experiments are a core research method; transdisciplinarity is a fundamental research mode; long-term orientation, scalability, and transferability of results are core aims; and learning through real-time reflexivity is a key objective.

The purpose of living laboratories is thus to experiment with novel processes and practices that would be otherwise impossible in conventional urban settings and to carefully monitor the social and physical impacts of these process experiments to provide a robust, transferable, knowledge base for further learning.

In addition to addressing specific local challenges, such as improving the energy efficiency of building operations or promoting less polluting transport choices, living laboratories can serve as platforms for visioning processes to define needs, what progress means, and how to realize it, with the power to stimulate changes beyond their boundaries.

As such, living laboratories are a key mechanism through which universities can contribute to a wider societal transition to sustainability.

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Nina Vogel, Programme Director of SLU Urban Futures and Researcher at SLU affiliated to the Governance and Management theme group at the Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management, SLU Alnarp

Phone: +46 727 044 064