Innovations For Building Smart Cities as Living Labs

Cities are complex, networked and continuously changing social ecosystems, shaped and transformed through the interaction of different interests and ambitions. Ensuring employment, sustainable development, inclusion and quality of life are important concerns. Infrastructures of cities, addressing these concerns, comprise a diversity of services such as healthcare, energy, education, environmental management, transportation and mobility, public safety. Increasingly these services are enabled by broadband infrastructures, wireless sensor networks, Internet-based networked applications, open data and open platforms

This is the first part of the story. The second one will be published in our next issue

The concept of “smart cities” has emerged during the last few years to describe how investments in human and social capital and modern ICT infrastructure and e-services fuel sustainable growth and quality of life, enabled by a wise management of natural resources and through participative government. In the context of rising urbanization and new urban challenges such as new urban governances and citizens need for involvement, economic and ecological crises, territorial competitiveness, Smart cities need to find creative solutions for implementing policies and urban projects. In recent past smart cities are fast evolving paving ways for innovative designs of smart cities with both augmented and virtual realities as are reflected in the form of conceptualizing and implementing the Living Labs. The paper discusses the basic elements, various facets as well as broad approaches of integration of Living Labs with Smart cities in innovative and interactive ways to improve the sustainable growth and lifestyles of the citizens.

Smart cities need to find creative solutions for implementing policies and urban projects

1.0. Smart Cities and Living Labs

As world urbanization continues to grow with the total population living in cities forecast to increase by 75% by 2050, there is an increased demand for intelligent, sustainable environments that offer citizens a high quality of life. This is typically characterized as the evolution to Smart Cities. The concept of smart cities has emerged during the last few years to describe how investments in human and social capital and modern ICT infrastructure and e-services fuel sustainable growth and quality of life, enabled by a wise management of natural resources and through participative government. Many of these aspects come from increased knowledge of our urban environment, which can now be sensed to an unprecedented extent.

Smart cities are driven bottom-up by citizens and organizations rather than by top down visions and plans that ignore the innovative potential of grassroots efforts, while governments should play the role of mediator bringing companies, research organizations and creative people to work in concert. This perspective leads to a multi-dimensional smart city concept: it is a future scenario (what to achieve), but even more it is an urban development. It focuses on how information and communication technologies enhance the lives of citizens. This should not be interpreted as drawing the smart city technology scenario. Rather, the smart city could be about how people are empowered, through using technology, to shape urban change and realizing their ambitions. The smart city provides the conditions and resources for change. In this sense, the smart city is an urban innovation ecosystem, a living laboratory, and can act as an agent of change (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Smart City with an Urban Innovation Ecosystem


Short story of Smart cities


Much has been written and talked about on aspects such as the massive explosion of Living Labs that has positively affected the European scenario in the past five years now. Scientists, industry observers, and policy makers seem to share the perception that the big movement (and momentum) still under way defies meaningful descriptions, making an overall evaluation almost impossible. This perception is unfortunate, because the ‘essence’ of European Living Labs – a successful mixture of  ICT-based collaborative environments, open innovation platforms, user centered product/service development methods, and public private partnerships – holds potentially disruptive and long lasting transformational effects on industry, markets, regional economies and societal landscapes.

Living labs typically refer to co-creation and appropriation of innovations by users, often in a (online or offline) community setting, and also involving business stakeholders. Over the years, multiple definitions of living labs have been proposed. Initial definitions included “a research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real-life contexts” (Eriksson et al., 2005) and an “experimentation environment in which technology is given shape in real-life contexts and in which (end) users are considered ‘co-producers’” (Ballon et al., 2005). Subsequently, these aspects were combined so that living labs were conceptualized as both a methodology and a milieu for organizing user participation in innovation processes (Bergvall-Kåreborn et al., 2009).

In essence, the Living Lab concept refers to a set of (quantitative and qualitative) methodologies and tools for the co-creation and validation of innovation together with the end users in real-world environments. In these environments, people are taken across the different roles played during a normal day, and which typically require the use and support of different technologies. Compared with traditional test-beds, where users are not necessarily involved and the laboratory setting is controlled, Living Labs place people at the very centre of the innovation process; thereby, innovation becomes human-centric, in contrast to technology-centric. Hence, the purpose of a Living Lab is to enhance innovation, usefulness, and usability of ICT applications in society.

The living lab concept appeared in academic discussion in the 1990s, but really took off only in 2006 when the European Commission kicked off projects to advance, coordinate, and promote a common European innovation system based on living labs (Dutilleul et al., 2010; Several international organizations, representing industrial living lab initiatives in information and communication technologies (ICT), were founded in order to stimulate living lab research. The European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL; open-living is the most influential initiative covering living labs from all over the world. Living labs were put forward as an institution to overcome the “European Paradox” ( or the gap between research leadership and commercial success of innovation. This increasing attention and the accompanying monetary support for living labs has unfortunately led to a wide variety of projects carried out under the “living labs” umbrella, and a proliferation of research papers that use the term “living labs” in a sense that is only loosely relate to the subject. Despite the booming interest in living labs, they remain an under-researched area due to the lack of common understanding of the concept and its underlying mechanisms (Bergvall-Kåreborn and Ståhlbröst, 2009; They have been discussed from different perspectives, and a wide diversity of thematic approaches, constellations, methodologies, and tools for living labs exist (Almirall et al., 2012; The living lab has been conceptualized as an environment (Ballon et al., 2005;, a methodology or innovation approach (Bergvall-Kåreborn et al., 2009;, an organization or an innovation intermediary (Schuurman et al., 2012;, a network (Leminen and Westerlund, 2012;, and a system (ENoLL, 2007; This lack of common understanding makes it difficult to advance research focused on living labs.

The smart city is an urban innovation ecosystem, a living laboratory, and can act as an agent of change

2.0. Living Lab as an Environment: The Types

Many different types of Living Lab environments exist such as:

1. Research Living Labs focusing on performing research on different aspects of the innovation process.

2. Corporate Living Labs that focus on having a physical place where they invite stakeholders (e.g. citizens) to co-create innovations.

3. Organizational Living Lab where the members of an organization co-creatively develop innovations.

4. Intermediary Living Labs in which different partners are invited to collaboratively innovate in a neutral arena.

5. A time limited Living Lab as a support for the innovation process in a project. The Living Lab closes when the project ends.

Due to the constant development of the concept other types of Living Labs certainly exists. In a Living Lab, the aim is to accomplish quattro helix by harmonizing the innovation process among four main stakeholders: companies, users, public organizations and researchers. These stakeholders can benefit from the Living Lab approach in many different ways, for instance companies can get new and innovative ideas, users can get the innovation they want, researchers can get study cases and public organizations can get increased return on investment on innovation research.

The key concept at the basis of a Living Lab is to turn users from being traditionally considered as merely passive subjects to whom new products or services are simply proposed, into active players contributing to the co-creation and experimentation of emerging ideas, breakthrough scenarios and innovative concepts. Among the numerous definitions available, one may select from the following illustration of a Living Lab’s components (Figure 2), with Innovation placed at the centre:

Figure 2: Living Lab’s Components


Technology Factors


Proceeding clockwise, one would encounter the following stages in succession:

The ICT & Infrastructure component, which outlines the role that new and existing ICT technology can play to facilitate new ways of cooperating and co-creating innovation among stakeholders;

Management represents the ownership, organization, and policy aspects of a Living Lab, which can be handled by e.g. consultants, entrepreneurs or researchers;

Partners and Users bring their own specific wealth of knowledge and expertise to the community, helping to achieve boundary spanning knowledge transfer results;

Research symbolizes the collective learning and reflection that take place in a Living Lab and should result in useful contributions to both theory and practice. Academic and industrial partners can also provide direct access to ongoing research and research results that can be better turned into new technological innovation;

Finally, Approach stands for the methods and tools aimed at trial configuration and execution that emerge as best practice within the Living Labs environment.

Over the past few years, several methods and tools have been presented in relation to Living Lab activities. We will now briefly overview some of them in quick succession.


 2.1. Operational Implementation of Living Lab’s Components

The key principle openness emphasizes creating an innovation process that is as open as possible with the stakeholders since multiple perspectives bring power to the development process. Openness is crucial for innovation processes in Living Labs to gather a multitude of perspectives in order to develop as attractive an innovation as possible. Opening up innovation processes also offers potential to decrease the time to market and to better utilize collective creativity. However, to be able to cooperate and share in a multi-stakeholder milieu, different levels of openness between stakeholders seems to be a requirement. Hence, a Living Lab environment should have a good relation with, and access to, users willing to be involved in innovation processes. Any Living Lab should also have access to multi-contextual environments, as well as high-end technology and infrastructure that can support both the processes of user involvement and technology development and tests. Each Living Lab environment also needs organization and methodologies suitable for its specific circumstances. Finally, a Living Lab needs access to diversity of expertise in terms of different partners that can contribute to the current activities. Equally important are the Key Principles of the approaches applied in Living Lab activities.


The European Network of Living Labs is the most influential initiative covering living labs from all over the world


3.0. Living Lab driven by ICT (IoT) Systems

Living Lab is a concept to support the processes of user-driven ICT systems. One precondition in Living Lab activities is that they are situated in real-world contexts, not constructed laboratory settings. Living Lab is an answer to many contemporary trends such as, for instance:

• Users changed roles from passive consumers to active presumes of content, shortened time to market for innovators,

• A globalized market through internet and IT’s entrance into people’s everyday activities.

A network was established in 2006, European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL). At this moment (2016), 320 Living Labs are members of ENoLL and the network is continuously growing. The members are operating all around the world, but their main residence is in Europe. A Living Lab has the endeavour to support the innovation process for all involved stakeholders, from manufacturers to end-users with special attention to SMEs, with the potential users in the centre in their real world context. To date there exists no agreed upon definition of the concept. It has been defined as a methodology, an organization, a system, an arena, an environment, and/or a systemic innovation approach. Based on our interpretation of the concept as well as our experiences of Living Lab practices, we define Living Labs as both an environment (milieu, arena) and an approach (Methodology, innovation approach).



selfdriving vehicle


4.0. Living Labs Methodology

Living Labs methodology was originally developed as a way of more effectively carrying out research and development in ICT. In essence, a Living Lab takes research and development out of the laboratory and into the real world, engaging stakeholders, citizens, and end-users in the collaborative design of new services. The immediate benefits of the Living Lab approach derive from this relationship created between people and technology: by allowing citizens to design and create their own solutions, the resulting services find faster and improved acceptance, with end users gaining a greater sense of empowerment and ownership.

Living Lab research is emerging as a potentially important stream in innovation research. Until now, it has mainly been concerned with issues such as defining Living Labs, explaining how Living Lab supports the innovation process, presenting the outcome of Living Lab projects and suggesting how to effectively involve users in the Living Lab context. For innovation professionals, Living Lab research can contribute to their innovation practices, since it offers an avenue to promote open service innovation.

Living Lab approach has been applied as a tool for local and regional policy and a means to promote territorial innovation to the overall benefit of local enterprises and economic activities. It is in this context that Living Labs and related approaches have by now become policy tools through which local well-being can be enhanced through a constant and permanent process of multi-faceted innovation.


Openness is crucial for innovation processes in LB to gather perspectives in order to develop as attractive an innovation as possible


In a Living Lab framework, any trial or collaboration experiment can be positioned – even concurrently – at either ‘stage’ of the ‘standard’ product/service development process (or chain): idea generation, concept design, prototype generation, verification and validation, product/service evaluation and market launch. At all such stages, the work of technology innovators can get a robust contribution from the early involvement of users in the trials under real-life conditions, which can be taken as the proper hallmark of the Living Lab’s methodological approach.

5.0. Living Lab represents a Multi-Stakeholder Platform

From a heuristic perspective, a multi-stakeholder platform is a more advanced metaphor than a network. Platforms suggest a form of institutionalization that networks do not have. In a typical network, problem solving capacity is dispersed; while in a typical platform, it is governed and brought to a more advanced synthesis. Furthermore, an ICT infrastructure can be associated to the platform, providing efficient means to manage, store and analyze the production results. Based on the known evidence that most networks are often characterized by cooperation and coordination problems, which are caused by the lack of a dominant decision centre, network management can be a success if it promotes some minimally joint activities between actors. On the contrary, in multi-stakeholder platforms like Living Labs, the power is – at least ideally – dispersed in such a way that no single actor can dominate, nor is management responsibility or the accountability for results exclusive to any particular stakeholder. Figure 3 exhibits the ‘typical’ appearance of a Living Lab’s PPPP environment architecture as a three layered multi-stakeholder platform.

A Living Lab is a real-life test and experimentation environment in which users and producers co-create innovations. Living Labs have been characterized by the European Commission as Public–Private–People Partnerships (PPPP) for user-driven open innovation. A Living Lab is a modern concept but its roots can be traced back to Knight (1749), who was the first to use the term ‘living laboratory’. In the modern context, Westerlund and Leminen (2011) have defined Living Labs as: ‘physical regions or virtual realities, or interaction spaces, in which stakeholders form public–private–people partnerships (4Ps) of companies, public agencies, universities, users, and other stakeholders, all collaborating for creation, prototyping, validating, and testing of new technologies, services, products, and systems in real-life contexts’ (Leminen, 2011, 2013, 2015; Westerlund & Leminen, 2011). Living Labs are argued to offer a variety of benefit for stakeholders, including new business opportunities, more effective innovation processes and savings in R&D costs. Given that a Living Lab is by definition a network, a single Living Lab network has multiple stakeholders (Feurstein et al., 2008).

Living Labs have gained more attention in recent years due to increased interest from Europe, and consequently European subsidiary programs. The European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), which was founded in 2006, defines a Living Lab as follows: Living Labs are real-life research environments, used to tackle innovation challenges in all kinds of fields (“European Network of Living Labs,” 2014). ENoLL is a community of Living Labs with a sustainable strategy for enhancing innovation on a systematic basis. The overall objective is to contribute to the creation of a dynamic European innovation system. ENoLL aims to support co-creative, human-centric and user-driven research, development and innovation in order to better cater for people’s needs.

On the top of everything lies the PPP (Public Private Partnership) between local stakeholders, dealing with the strategic governance of user-driven, open innovation policy. One layer below there is the practical (and tactical) implementation of the trials, foreseeing a key role for the Living Lab’s ‘owner’ or ‘representative’ (the real or virtual organization appointed to act on behalf of the PPP) and for the people/citizens as ‘actors’ of the individual pilot (the missing “P” in the PPPP acronym). Finally, the third layer deals with the actual generation of (material and/or immaterial) results from the trials, going to the benefit of the Living Lab’s service ‘customers’ (e.g. SMEs or large enterprises wanting the pre-test the market feasibility of their engineered solutions).

(To be followed)

by Dr. A. N. Sarkar : Ex-Senior Professor (International Business) & Dean (Research), Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, 3& 4 Institutional Areas, Jasola (Sarita Vihar), New Delhi. 

Source: Innovations in designing Smart Cities as Living Labs

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