By prioritising co-creation and equal participation, Living Labs offer huge potential as an approach to tackling complex problems through sport.

Living Labs are a design and research methodology for developing and testing approaches to co-creation with project participants. They take place in real-life settings, involving further cooperation with public, non-profit and private stakeholders.

As Malmberg and Vaittinen explained in 2017: "A Living Lab is a place where citizens, artists, technologists, businesses and public sector organisations can come together to co-create ideas, tools and technologies that will address local challenges. It's a place for innovation and exploring new possibilities but where reflection and evaluation are built into the working process to make sure the Living Lab can be flexible and responsive to the changing needs of stakeholders and communities."

The approach can be particularly useful for addressing problems that don’t have only one solution – so-called “wicked problems.”

For the partners of the Sport and Social Cohesion Lab project, Living Labs:

  1. Focus on developing learning, new approaches and solutions for “wicked problems”
  2. Prioritise cooperation between multiple stakeholders
  3. Take place in real-world settings
  4. Include project participants as equal co-creators in the process

Key components of the approach

Living Labs have eight key components.

  1. A positive impact on society: This is the main purpose of a Living Lab and an integral part of all other seven components.
  2. An ethical attitude: What is the right thing to do in a specific situation and for who? It’s important to continually reflect on power dynamics, your position and those of others, and other ethical considerations.
  3. A clear and shared goal: Different stakeholders will have different objectives, so it’s important to bring them together in setting a shared overarching goal. Sometimes a goal can change during the project – that’s OK as long as the different stakeholders agree.
  4. Multi-stakeholder involvement: Find out who is concerned about the challenge you’re working on, partner with them, ensure equal relations between different stakeholders and make mutual learning a crucial part of the process.
  5. User engagement: People in your Living Lab’s local community are the experiential experts on the challenge you’re addressing. Involving them in every stage of the process is crucial to having a positive impact.
  6. Real-life setting: Living Labs need to take place in a specific neighbourhood or context where defining the problem and actions is a joint responsibility (as opposed to other forms of “test” or “field” labs).
  7. Co-creation: Develop new and innovative ways of working together that prioritise equality. This process is about both making together and learning together (Puerari, 2018).
  8. Multi-method approach: Living Labs rely on continuous input from involved stakeholders. They therefore require a wide range of feedback tools and data collection methods.

How can I set up a Living Lab?

The Hague University of Applied Sciences has created a Living Lab Framework has part of the Sport and Social Cohesion Lab project. The document provides further information on the Living Lab approach, checklists and key questions to ask related to the eight key components, suggested phases for setting up a Living Lab, and templates for running focus group discussions.

Banner image at the top of this page: Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI). Living Lab activities in Dublin, Ireland.