What is a Living Lab?

Nowadays, innovations are developed more quickly. The useful life of the products tends to decrease. In this context, more and more products are doomed to failure. Businesses, therefore, are exploring new ways to innovate further, reducing technical and financial risks .

In this movement, users are often at the origin of innovations. This trend should continue in the coming years given the increased availability of technology, manufacturing, fab labs and factories. Users therefore have an important role to play in the new product development process, their role is increasingly recognized by companies.

The concept of innovation 'with high technological content' produced exclusively within the company operations make room for a so-called soft more innovation, less costly, co-developed externally and user-centric. It is in this context that the Living Labs were born. If we know why they were created, the views on what is a Living Lab varied.

To summarize the key definitions that are usually mentioned, A Living Lab is:
(1) an open platform for innovation, methodology, cultural and technical environment, an immersive experimental environment or ecosystem...

(2) in which a large and diverse number of users, in close collaboration with designers, researchers, technicians, engineers, create, experiment, validate new answers to one or more specific and clearly defined problems...

(3) under conditions and a more realistic context as possible...

(4) by using a variety of approaches to stimulate creativity, planning and inspire and guide the teamwork...

(5) to produce a rich and detailed information which is then analyzed and transformed into useful data to create new products and processes. The aim is not so much technical optimization, but rather a better understanding of the user needs and context of use.

Drawing: Pierre Guité. What is a Living Lab by Sylvie Gendreau, Pocket Lab, Dreamingtheworld.tv

Drawing: Pierre Guité. What is a Living Lab by Sylvie Gendreau, Pocket Lab, Dreamingtheworld.tv

Two elements are key attributes of a Living Lab and they are, paradoxically, more difficult to implement:

(1) The active and sustained participation of users from the beginning to the end of the process; (2) The context in which experiments are conducted and should be as close as possible to the intended use.

At the root of all Living Lab, lies the idea that innovation is always the result of a close and constant return (multiple iterations) from a concept generated by one or more individuals (expertise, skills, intentions) and the social and economic environment in which the concept was created (knowledge, technologies, financial resources...).

The chart below shows the main attributes of a Living Lab. A scale from 1 to 5 allows evaluating each attribute. A Living Lab should ideally include these attribute, plus the specific approaches of how to lead the project:

Evaluation parameters to determine if a Living Lab is needed:
1. Enabling environments to evaluate / experiment uses in all their aspects.
2. Discovery to identify new uses.
3. Co-creation — level of user participation or users as co-developers.
4. Evaluation with mechanisms in place to evaluate innovations in collaboration with users.
5. Technical environment to be able to carry out tests in the most realistic context of use.
6. Background for testing innovations in a real context.
7. Duration to have the opportunity to conduct studies (medium and long terms).
8. Scale to be able to conduct experiments with multiple users.


That's the definition.

What are the practice?

Field studies conducted in Flanders (Belgium), for example, show the following obstacles:
• Poor cooperation between industrial partners;
• The industrial partners are not sufficiently pro-active—lack of projects;
• As a result, users may lose interest;
• Retention/insufficient information sharing;
• Topics are too general—not specific enough;
• Specific themes that do not lend to the achievement of long-term projects;
• Lack of openness and objectivity (neutrality) on the part of industrial partners;
• Danger lock/to promote one technology over another.


Schuurman, Dimitri. Innovation from user experience in Living Labs: revisiting the ‘innovation factory’-concept with a panel-based and user-centered approach. The XXIII ISPIM Conference – Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience – in Barcelona, Spain on 17-20 June 2012.

Veeckman, Carina. The impact of the organizational set-up of Living Labs on the innovation process: a case study between different Living Lab approaches in Flanders. The XXIII ISPIM Conference – Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience – in Barcelona, Spain on 17-20 June 2012.