What is an Urban Living Lab?

There is a growing trend to involve citizens in city development, in order to make urban areas more adapted to citizens’ needs. When addressing the consequences of climate change and urbanisation in cities, such as air pollution, flooding, and heat stress, it is important to think ahead, and at the same time, to consider the social implications of the solutions that are introduced in our urban areas. Addressing complex problems, such as climate change and the social implications linked to it, entails a wide range of aspects to consider. It should be addressed by involving a range of stakeholders, including citizens, companies, research, academia and the public sector, to ensure the successful collaboration towards the shared solutions.

Urban Living Labs are the orchestrators of this collaboration, bringing together the different stakeholders - companies, research institutions, the public sector and citizens - through co-creation. Co-creation involves different phases of development to reach the final solution. The first phase consists of a joint exploration to identify the challenges and the different needs from the perspectives of all stakeholders. The second phase is the experimentation phase, which includes building a prototype of the proposed solution, testing it, and building it again - each time improving the solution based on the feedback gathered from the previous stages. In Living Labs, the place for experimentation is always a real-life setting: the solution is tested in the real-life environment, right where it is planned to be implemented. The third phase of the co-creation process is evaluation and implementation. In this final phase, the solution is evaluated and the final version of it can be built. 

Hiedanranta, Tampere

Take a look at our Living Lab Handbook!

With the UNaLab Living Lab Handbook, you can learn how to develop an Urban Living Lab based on the learnings, research and practical experiences from the UNaLab project.

How to set up an Urban Living Lab?

The Living Lab is often - but not always - connected to the public sector organisation, such as the city municipality. The organisation behind the ULL is called the “host organisation”. The ULLs in the front-runner cities Tampere, Genova and Eindhoven are all run by the local municipalities as the host organisation.

There are many aspects to consider in terms of organisation, operations, resources, business models, users/citizens, openness and value when setting up an ULL. An abundance of trainings were organised in the front-runner cities to identify those aspects that should be considered for a successful ULL implementation.

In one of the trainings, the following elements were presented as important considerations in the process of setting up a ULL: 1) building trust, 2) starting with people - not technology or data, 3) defining a governance model, 4) stakeholder expectation management, 5) aligning stakeholders and focus, 6) working across disciplines, 7) consider the complexity of the context, do not focus only on the solution but everything around it, 8) involve citizens from the very beginning.

Specific sets of skills are needed from those running the activities of an Urban Living Lab. In the ULL framework, developed within the UNaLab project, the roles of the Living Lab staff have been identified.

Hiedanranta, Tampere

Living Lab Staff

Urban Living Lab Manager

Manages the everyday practices of the ULL and develops ULL projects.

Project Manager

Responsible for specific projects that are run in the ULL.

Panel Manager

Recruits and interacts with the different stakeholders involved.

Human Interaction Specialist

Plans and designs activities, interacts with the citizens, evaluates and integrates feedback.

Pilot Manager

Responsible for the real-life experimentation and prototyping activities.

Urban Living Labs in the Front-runner Cities