Living Labs: Concepts, Tools and Cases

Introduction by , : “This special issue on “Living labs: concepts, tools and cases” comes 10 years after the first scientific publications that defined the notion of living labs, but more than 15 years after the appearance of the first living lab projects (Ballon et al., 2005; Eriksson et al., 2005). This five-year gap demonstrates the extent to which living labs have been a practice-driven phenomenon. Right up to this day, they represent a pragmatic approach to innovation (of information and communication technologies [ICTs] and other artefacts), characterised by a.o. experimentation in real life and active involvement of users.

While there is now a certain body of literature that attempts to clarify and analyse the concept (Følstad, 2008; Almirall et al., 2012; Leminen et al., 2012), living lab practices are still under-researched, and a theoretical and methodological gap continues to exist in terms of the restricted amount and visibility of living lab literature vis-à-vis the rather large community of practice (Schuurman, 2015). The present special issue aims to assist in filling that gap.

This does not mean that the development of living labs has not been informed by scholarly literature previously (Ballon, 2015). Cornerstones include von Hippel’s (1988) work on user-driven innovation because of its emphasis on the ability of so-called lead users, rather than manufacturers, to create (mainly ICT) innovations. Another cornerstone is Silverstone’s (1993) theory on the domestication of ICTs that frames technology adoption as an ongoing struggle between users and technology where the user attempts to take control of the technological artefact and the technology comes to be fitted to users’ daily routines. It has been said that, in living labs, von Hippel’s concept of user-driven design and Silverstone’s insights into the appropriation of technologies are coupled dynamically through experimentation (Frissen and Van Lieshout, 2006).

The concept of stigmergy, which refers to addressing complex problems by collective, yet uncoordinated, actions and interactions of communities of individuals, has gradually become the third foundational element, as social media have provided online platforms for stigmergic behaviour, which has subsequently been linked to the “spontaneous” emergence of innovations (Pallot et al., 2010; Kiemen and Ballon, 2012). A fourth cornerstone is the literature on open and business model innovation, which argues that today’s fast-paced innovation landscape requires collaboration between multiple business and institutional stakeholders, and that the business should use these joint innovation endeavours to find the right “business architecture” (Chesbrough, 2003; Mitchell and Coles, 2003).….(More)