There are two main building blocks of Living Labs, and those are co-creation and open innovation. In this article, the focus is on examining the phenomenon of co-creation in a Living Lab environment. The aim is to discuss co-creation as an up-to-date issue from Laurea’s strategic profile.
The article will start by presenting Living Labs, what are they, and how they are defined. Next, co-creation will be presented from an academic perspective, together with its theoretical roots and recent studies on the topic. Finally, co-creation in Living Labs will be elaborated on, focusing on practical examples introduced during Digital Living Lab Days, an annual conference organized by the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL). For more information about the conference and open innovation concept, see Koporcic 2021. As Laurea has been an active member of ENoLL since its foundation in 2006, this article will focus on presenting novel insights on the topic, as well as the list of challenges and potential solutions for Laurea to consider in the future.
What is a Living Lab?
It has been argued that the concept of the Living Lab was first introduced by Professor William Mitchell (MIT, Boston) at the School of Architecture (see e.g., Schaumacher & Feurstein 2007). Living Lab has been used as a research methodology for understanding complex problems and their solutions in the real world and has quickly become popular in the rest of the world.
In Europe, the Living Lab approach was created by the European Commission’s DG INFSO (Directorate General Information Society and Media, today being DG CONNECT), in their “Collaborative working environments” unit, in collaboration with the Open Innovation Strategy and Policy Group (OISPG).
Currently, there are many different definitions of the concept. However, this article will follow the definition created by the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), in which Living Labs are defined as: “User-centred, open innovation ecosystems based on a systematic user co-creation approach, integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings. Living Labs are both practice-driven organisations that facilitate and foster open, collaborative innovations, as well as real-life environments or arenas where both open innovation and user innovation processes can be studied and subject to experiments and where new solutions are developed. Living Labs operate as intermediaries among citizens, research organizations, companies, cities and regions for joint value co-creation, rapid prototyping or validation to scale up innovation and businesses. Living Labs have common elements but multiple different implementations.” (n.d).
Currently, ENoLL has over 150 active members all around the world. As a leading organization on Living Labs, ENoLL provides different facilities focusing on innovation (such as user engagement, co-creation, experimentation, and test facilities) in many different areas (e.g., media, healthcare, mobility, energy, agriculture). See more details at ENoLL-Candidate-Profile.pdf (doberpartners.com).
As it can be seen from the definition of Living Labs, they are closely connected with the co-creation phenomenon, which will be discussed next in more detail.
Co-Creation: an academic perspective
Co-creation relates to the value that is created by multiple stakeholders, as an outcome of their interactions (see e.g., Koporcic & Törnroos 2019b). This differs from the traditional understanding of value creation, which is an activity of a single firm, often a single department in the firm. Value co-creation moves away from a single firm perspective, taking into account other actors in the Living Lab, who are engaging in value creation activities, thus co-creating value with their partners. Participants of the co-creation can be business partners, but also potential customers, as final users of the product or service that is being co-created. This is also seen as a crucial element of the Living Lab’s successful operation. In addition, a Living Lab can be described as a multi-contextual sphere (Schaumacher & Feurstein 2007) in which Living Lab actors can interact with other stakeholders and end-users, during the whole co-creation process. This includes all stages of research and development (R&D), as well as testing and trials (Ballon, Pierson & Delaere 2005).
Some of the recent academic studies on the topic have explored the co-creation of value between companies, whose aim is to build their strong corporate brands (see, e.g., Koporcic 2017; Koporcic & Törnroos 2019a; 2019b; Koporcic 2020; Koporcic & Ivanova-Gongne 2020). One of the studies theorizes that the co-creation activities involve interpersonal interactions of firm representatives, which result in a dynamic process that is socially constructed, with the final result of building strong corporate brands and recognition on the market, i.e., in the network or the ecosystem of all involved actors (Koporcic & Halinen 2018). Another study focuses on the co-creation of identity, as a stakeholder-driven approach on diverse corporate brand meanings (Iglesias, Landgraf, Ind, Markovic & Koporcic 2020). Results of this study indicate that different internal and external stakeholders of the ecosystem are co-creating value of their corporate brand identities through communicating, internalizing, contesting, and elucidating performances (see more details in Iglesias et al. 2020). Although these studies have interesting empirical results, and strong theoretical and managerial implications, future research agenda could consider including Living Labs as a methodology for examining theoretical ideas and perspectives in an open environment in which co-creation is being fostered.
Co-Creation in Living Labs
In the Digital Living Lab Days event, there were many different examples of Living Labs that demonstrate the benefits of value co-creation for all involved stakeholders. One of the interesting presentations has been done by Sandra Planes-Satorra (representative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, i.e., OECD), on the topic of knowledge co-creation. Sandra has used the following quote to describe the phenomenon: “It is the process of the joint production of innovation between industry, research and possibly other stakeholders, notably civil society.” In other words, co-creation can be explained and understood as a joint production of knowledge between different stakeholders in the ecosystem. There are multiple reasons for supporting such co-creation initiatives. In her presentation, Sandra talked about bringing together complementary expertise, which increases the speed of innovations, and makes them possible; engaging civil society, to create awareness, increase the relevance of the initiative, and direct innovation efforts; and to address societal challenges. It has also been highlighted that Living Labs have co-creation at the center of their DNA.
However, it is important to note that co-creation initiatives are also facing many different challenges. From Sandra’s presentation, we could see the list of challenges and their potential solutions:
- Challenge: how to engage all stakeholders. Potential solutions: creating shared goals, developing trust between each other, and even close personal relationships.
- Challenge: how to create effective governance as well as operational structures. Potential solutions: through contracts and agreements.
- Challenge: how to develop a sense of ownership and use of mutually created data. Potential solutions: develop detailed guidelines and clear formalization in contracts.
- Challenge: how to adapt to the constantly changing institutional environment. Potential solutions: be flexible, create iterative paths, and have agile management.
Moreover, when managing co-creation initiatives, Living Labs should create a dedicated space for co-creation activities, such as physical facilities or virtual spaces (or their combination). In addition, they should involve independent entities to facilitate their co-creation, as well as create a flexible, democratic, and operational governance model. Finally, they should carefully select their partners, create effective communication channels, a clear set of data ownership rules for all involved stakeholders, and conduct regular evaluations for informing decision making. See more instructions on successful partnerships from OECD LEED forum (oecd.org).
One of the excellent examples of Living Lab co-creation laboratories is presented by Kreiling and Paunov (2021) in their Policy paper. The example presents MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) co-creation laboratories, which are all created with a diverse set of collaborators. One of those is Climate CoLab, which includes different research institutes and organisations, multiple firms, NGOs, as well as governmental organizations. Researchers and innovators are then involved in the co-creation process through challenge-driven contests, which are focused on addressing issues related to climate change. Another example is the Co-Creation Studio that focuses on immersive storytelling and collaboration within and between communities and different disciplines, with the help of artificial intelligence.
In terms of Covid-19 co-creation activities and initiatives, Kreiling and Paunov (2021) argue that those were crucial for creating needed institutional settings for the co-creation of knowledge to come to existence in such turbulent times. They are classifying these initiatives into two types. The first type are co-creation projects, with the examples of joint vaccine developments, open research data, epidemiological observatories, and digital data co-creation. The second type are co-creation mechanisms, which provide the needed infrastructure for creating networks of different actors who will come together to address certain challenges. Examples are digital platforms and hackathons. These initiatives serve as a response to the pandemic and demonstrate the effect and multiple benefits of co-creation activities. These joint efforts are furthermore resulting in open innovations, which are discussed and elaborated further in Koporcic (2021).
Living Labs are open innovation networks or ecosystems that are focusing on the user co-creation approach, which indicates that the final users of products, services, or any type of innovations are active participants in their co-creation. Living Labs are using real-life, or existing settings, such as cities or different organizations, in order to bring together and test specific research and innovations, with a goal of creating new solutions for existing and/or new problems.
Therefore, Living Labs can be understood as relevant infrastructures that Universities of Applied Sciences, such as Laurea, can use for fostering innovative activities and allowing co-creation processes to occur. As discussed during the conference, Living Labs provide great opportunities for testing before investing. In other words, their technological infrastructure is supporting testing, experimenting, piloting, and scaling up innovations in controlled as well as the uncontrolled dynamic environment. Developing skills through exploration, where mistakes are not avoided, but even encouraged, provides a great platform for success and for achieving a high impact.
To summarize, a collaboration between multiple stakeholders (e.g., public and private institutions, government, academia, and practice) and co-creation of solutions of the mutual problems, while bringing different disciplines together is the main goal of Living Labs, but also one of Laurea’s strategic choices. As Philippe Duponteil (European Commission) said during the conference, this multidisciplinary approach and synergy between different disciplines, technologies, and sectors, has a possibility to create a positive ecosystem, by bringing together different strengths, which will, in the end, benefit the society as a whole. This is especially important in turbulent times, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, as it raises awareness of the importance of innovation, technology, and science, for the solution of world problems and a better society of the future.
About the author:
Dr. Nikolina Koporcic earned her Ph.D. in Economics and Business Administration in 2017, at the Åbo Akademi University. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher at Laurea University of Applied Sciences. In addition, she is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Luleå University of Technology, Adjunct Professor at the University of Turku, and holds an affiliation with Åbo Akademi University.
Nikolina’s research areas include co-creation of value, open innovation, corporate branding, entrepreneurship, business relationships and networks. In particular, she is studying the importance of Interactive Network Branding for small firms in business markets. Nikolina has published 15 peer-reviewed academic articles, 2 books, 7 book chapters, and 16 conference proceedings. orcid.org/0000-0001-5050-3819
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