by Shelly Tsui, TU/e

The act of co-creating, which generally refers to collaborating on joint activities with diverse groups of stakeholders, through living labs is on the rise as a popular, but oftentimes challenging, approach to working on societal issues such as healthcare, education, and aging. For those not familiar with the term, the concept of living labs can described as controlled sites of experimentation in a public space (e.g. a park or a shopping street) or a more intimate setting such as a hospital or a school. The aim of the living lab is to observe real-time interactions between participations (e.g. scientists, academics, citizens, government officials, you name it) with each other, and/or some technology (depending on the project). However, there are various ways in which the living lab can be put into practice, and this comes with its own unique set of strengths and challenges. This is what I observed during my time at the Open Living Labs Days Conference on “Co-creating Innovation: scaling up from global to local” that took place in Thessaloniki, Greece from September 3-5.

So, how did I end up there?

I was invited to present my research during their doctoral consortium with other PhD students on the topic of co-creation and living labs on the second day. In a nutshell, my research focus is on the empowerment of stakeholders in co-creation. As co-creation brings together different stakeholders with not only different interests but also different kinds and levels of knowledge, skills, and resources, I argue that it is important to be able to see how these differences can influence the success of a co-creation project, and how can they be addressed.(Vague? My research is still in progress!)

In addition to being present to present, I was also looking forward to the 3-day program, and I had the chance to participate in various informative sessions (e.g. state of living lab research) and hands- on workshops offered by people who ran and studied living labs. They shared their insights on their struggles, but also their optimism for the future of the approach as a means to address societal problems better. My favorite workshop was hands-down the one where I and other participants were able to brainstorm with European Commission officials on how to set up a living lab. We provided insights from our research, and surprised them with how much knowledge was in the room. It was a great way to get insight to the Commission’s current understanding of living labs, which is always useful to confirm the relevance and importance of my research (which can sometimes be forgotten amidst the stress!).

Overall, I had a great time and met many people (and made many connections!) who shared their knowledge and tips that were extremely useful for a budding researcher like me. Next year’s edition will be in Ghent, Belgium and depending on the topic, I might join again and share the state of my research then.