December 2015 Download this article as a PDFAbstract

In this article, we propose the concepts of places and spaces as conceptual tools to facilitate the organization of innovation activities within living labs. We have taken a pragmatic perspective on these concepts regarding how they are integrated in design situations, and how different types of places and spaces can facilitate or hinder innovation. We have found that, by applying openness, realism, and influence in the different spaces of our living lab milieus, they have transformed into many different places depending on the stakeholders involved, the methods chosen, and the facilitation of activities. Hence, by understanding this line of reasoning, living lab managers can make more informed decisions and plans for innovation activities.

Introduction

Within the emerging area of living labs, there is a call for better understanding of the concept and the context of living labs and the methodologies for co-creating innovation (Ballon, 2015; Westerlund & Leminen, 2014). In this article, we will focus on two key features of living labs, and innovation systems in general. The first is the intensified and matured use of Internet-based technologies aimed at facilitating development and innovation among individuals, organizations, and societies, and which create innovation milieus and processes characterized by a combination of physical and digital structures and activities (Almirall et al., 2012; Ballon, 2015). The second is the trend of extended and intensified globalization in combination with areas of localization. Both of these trends can be analyzed and discussed with the help of the concepts of place and space, where place is represented by a sense of being and contented belonging, and space is represented by "becoming" (versus "being") and a constant striving for newness (Schultze & Boland, 2000). Despite this increased importance of understanding different types of places and spaces in relation to innovation, little attention has so far been granted to the concept within the innovation community. Hence, we argue that it is time to reflect on the space of innovative opportunity linked to living labs and how they support diversities of action and behaviour in ways that open up possibilities for people to create a multitude of different places within these spaces.

In this article, we propose the concepts of places and spaces as conceptual tools to facilitate the organization of innovation activities within living labs. It is not our aim to clarify different philosophical standpoints related to the place and space; instead, we take a rather pragmatic perspective and focus on the concepts as tools for understanding present-day innovation milieus and processes, and how they are shaped. To manage this perspective, we need to understand the different dimensions of place and space, how they are integrated in design situations, and how different types of places and spaces can facilitate or hinder innovation. In the following sections, we briefly introduce living labs, discuss the concepts of place and space, and present our research methodology. Thereafter, we present empirical findings based on our experiences from a multitude of living lab projects related to place and space, and we discuss their influence on the innovation process. Finally, we end the article with our conclusions.

The Living Lab Concept

The concept of the living lab has been frequently studied by scholars in Europe during the last 10 years. There exist different types of living labs (Leminen, 2013) and different aspects of living labs have been addressed, including methods for involving different stakeholders (Almirall et al., 2012; Ståhlbröst, 2008; Stålbröst & Bergvall-Kåreborn, 2008; Svensson et al., 2010); motivation for involvement (Ståhlbröst & Bergvall-Kåreborn, 2011); the “real life” aspect (Intille et al., 2006; Westerlund & Leminen, 2011); and categorizations of living labs (Følstad, 2008; Leminen et al., 2012; Schuurman et al., 2012). Given that the aspects differ, several definitions of "living lab" have been offered (e.g., Ballon et al., 2005; Dutilleul et al., 2010; Eriksson et al., 2005; Fulgencio et al., 2012; Westerlund & Leminen, 2011). In this article, we adopt the following definition:

"A living lab is a user-centric innovation milieu built on every-day practice and research, with an approach that facilitates user influence in open and distributed innovation processes engaging all relevant partners in real-life contexts, aiming to create sustainable values" (Bergvall-Kåreborn et al., 2009).

This definition states that a living lab is both an innovation milieu and an innovation approach. Related to this definition, five key components have been identified – ICT and infrastructure; management; partners and users; research; and approach – as well as five key principles – openness; realism; influence; value; and sustainability (Bergvall-Kåreborn et al., 2009). Given that the first three key principles (openness, realism, and influence) are connected to the innovation approach, whereas the last two (value and sustainability) are more related to the innovation itself, we will focus on the first three in our analysis of place and space in living labs.

Place and Space

The concepts of place and space have a long history and play a significant role in a number of different disciplines. Within living labs, the concepts are rarely discussed, with some exceptions (e.g., Femenias & Hagbert, 2013). However, because the concepts enjoy a wide, common-sense usage, we tend to assume that we know their meanings, which obstructs our understanding of the concept in a more theoretical way (Cresswell, 2004). It is therefore important to look at the concepts from a more theoretical perspective and to identify characteristics and features that can facilitate the design, development, and assessment of living labs. Because place is the more accessible of the two concepts (Sack, 1993), due to its relation to geographical location (Casey, 1996), we start describing place as a concept and use the images of place to later illustrate space.

Although the link between place and existing location is present in most literature, the concept of place in modern literature is more than frozen scenes or settings for human activity and social interaction. It includes the thoughts and actions of people that form and reform social and cultural life, and thereby transform space and nature (Pred, 1984). The extended view of place is largely influenced by scholars such as Bourdiue (1990) and Giddens (1990), and it infers that a place should be viewed as both an entity and a verb. This intertwinement between structure and process is the rationale behind concepts such as “place making” (Elmes et al., 2012) and is well described by Alexander (1979) when he says that the life and soul of a place is formed both by its physical environment and by the pattern of events that people experience there. Though Alexander talks of buildings and cities, his theories also apply to innovation environments. With this modern view of place, the concept has three necessary and sufficient features: geographical location, material form, and investment in value and meaning (Gieryn, 2000). Hence, when it comes to understanding and designing innovation environments of different types, we need to focus equally on their location, the structure of the environments, and on the innovation activities that takes place there.

There are also scholars who primarily focus on place as networks of people sharing common interests, beliefs, or identities (McNamee & Hosking, 2012). Due to Internet technologies, these networks are increasingly dispersed over wide geographical areas, giving the local geographical dimension of a place a broader meaning. Following this perspective, the interactions within a network by which norms, patterns of behaviour, and practices are established creates a sense of place, not necessarily tied to a specific geographical location (Massey, 1994). According to Massey (1994), meeting places integrates the global and the local world together. Taking into account the physical and digital, as well as the local and global, aspects of living labs and their aim to create innovative meeting places that transcend the limitations of the “here and now”, we associate with this perspective of place.

In post-modern societies, place and space form a duality, and their meanings are mutually constituted and dialectically intertwined. Whereas place is associated with a sense of subjectivity, uniqueness, understood reality, practical knowledge, boundedness, belonging, tradition, stability, and security; space is characterized by objectivity, similarities, opportunity, scientific knowledge, expansiveness, being, newness, growth, and freedom (Schultze & Boland, 2000).

It is through our actions, behaviour, and the meaning attributed to a situation that a space transforms to a place (Harrison & Dourish, 1996). Locating these dimensions in an organizational setting space is represented by organizational flexibility, global presence, a mobile workforce, and endless opportunities for growth (Schultze & Boland, 2000). Technology is closely linked to the concept of space because it reinforces features such as universality, transferability, replicability, mobility, and continuous, progressive change. Place, on the other hand, represents the uniqueness of the organization, situated knowledge, and structures, processes, and culture that are difficult to transfer and replicate by other competing organizations.

Research Methodology

Drawing on more than ten years of experience from living lab activities in two different Swedish living labs, Botnia Living Lab located in the north of Sweden and Halmstad Living Lab located in the south, the authors have explored the concept of the living lab from many angles. In this article, we use our experience from 14 different cases to illustrate the importance of space and place in living labs (Table 1).

In all these cases, we have had a mix of stakeholders, including users/user groups, companies, and researchers. Also, the “real life” component has been a feature of all these projects. The cases represent a mix of national and international stakeholders and aspects of living labs. We have mostly used qualitative data collection methods in different combinations (e.g., Mingers, 2001), such as workshops, interviews, focus groups, etc. We have also worked in all stages of the innovation process, from need-finding to evaluations. When analyzing the data, we found patterns in the different projects related to the concepts of place and space. In the next section, we draw examples from some of the projects that could be seen as typical for the experiences in both the Botnia and Halmstad living labs.

Table 1. Descriptions of the living lab cases from which the findings are drawn

Living Lab

Project

Years

Aim

Reference

Halmstad

DigiNews

2004–2006

To explore research and development issues for an electronic newspaper of the future. The project aimed at combining the accessibility, simplicity, and mobility of printed newspapers, with the advantages of digital media, communication technologies, and portable consumer electronics

Åkesson & Ihlström (2006)

Botnia

Crocopil

2005–2007

To develop technologies and digital services that improve living and working conditions for people and organizations in remote areas with unstable Internet connectivity

Ståhlbröst & Holst (2006)

Botnia

SMART

2006–2007

To explore the concept of "reaction media", allowing individuals to easily and directly take active part in situations such as public dialogues and industrial quality processes

Bergvall-Kåreborn & Ståhlbröst (2009)

Halmstad

Safe at Home

2007–2008

Focus on methods for user involvement in the innovation process with the aim at supporting and empowering elderly people

Svensson, Ihlström Eriksson, & Ebbesson (2010)

Botnia

OLLSE

2007–2009

To initiate and administrate a Swedish collaborative network of pioneer living lab environments for user-driven innovation of ICT-based services and products

Ihlström Eriksson, Åkesson & Svensson (2009)

Botnia

MyHealth‌@‌Age 

2008–2010

To improve the health and wellbeing of the ageing population in the northern periphery regions of Europe (Sweden, Norway and Northern Ireland) by co-creating ICT-products and services that make it possible for them to sustain autonomous living and take a more active role in their own wellbeing

Bergvall-Kåreborn et al. (2015)

Halmstad

Smart Locks

2008

To create an IT demonstrator that aims to mitigate the problems connected to safety and security for elderly people living alone at home and to enhance communication possibilities between, for example a caretaker, a caregiver, and next of kin to the elderly

Svensson & Ihlström Eriksson (2012)

Halmstad

LoCoMedia

2009–2010

To examine how to design an open media environment to leverage values of user-generated content (UGC) in media and news production

Ebbesson & Ihlström Eriksson (2013)

Halmstad

Express2Connect

2010–2012

To offer ways and occasions for communities among the elderly to be created, because it will intensify interaction, communication, and dialogue between the users and contribute to the feeling of wellbeing, self-esteem, and belonging

Wildevuur et al. (2013)

Botnia

SociaLL

2010–2012

To foster value-creating use of social software for co-creation in i) existing living lab infrastructures and ii) SMEs with little or no previous experience with living labs

Ståhlbröst et al. (2013)

Botnia

APOLLON

2010–2013

To facilitate networking and harmonizing of living lab approaches throughout Europe; real-world pilots were carried out on eParticipation, eHealth, energy efficiency, and

eManufacturing

Lievens et al. (2011)

Botnia

CASSANDRA

2011–2014

To build a platform for the realistic modelling of the energy market stakeholders, also involving small-scale consumers;  carried out real-world pilots together with users in a shopping centre and in a multi-residential building

Runardotter & Holst (2014)

Botnia

EAR-IT

2012–2014

To implement a smart city solution based on audio monitoring in a city context; to develop the solution with citizen needs related to privacy and smart city solutions in the centre

Ståhlbröst, Bergvall-Kåreborn & Ihlström Eriksson (2015)

Botnia

IoTLab

2013–2016

To develop crowdsourcing tools that support crowdsourced-driven research based on IoT and testbed services, featuring users as private persons who want to engage and contribute to research project.

Ståhlbröst, Angelopoulos, Evangelatos, Krco, Nikoletseas, Raptis, & Ziegler (2015)

 

Empirical Findings

As described above, we chose to centre our empirical findings on the first three key principles of living labs: openness, realism, and influence (Bergvall-Kåreborn et al., 2009). To illustrate the concepts of space and place and how they influence the innovation process, we created different vignettes related to these principles and included examples from projects in both the Botnia and Halmstad living labs.

Vignette 1: Openness

In our living lab projects, openness is strived for on different levels, many of which have been widely researched within the open innovation literature; for example: types of open innovation (Gassman & Enkel 2004), business models (Chesbrough, 2006a), and resource transfers (Chesbrough, 2006b). There is, however, one new dimension of openness that has emerged in some of our more recent living lab projects carried out within smart city contexts: openness related to data sharing of private persons, rather than organizations. To illustrate this dimension of openness and its relation to the concepts of place and space, we use the EAR-IT project, which implemented a smart city solution based on audio monitoring.

Implementing audio monitoring, as well as visual monitoring, in public spaces raises many interesting questions because individuals occupying these public spaces transform them into private places through their actions and behaviour, and the meaning they attribute to a situation. Hence, public spaces such as parks, streets, shopping centres, cafés, and restaurants quickly turn into private places when we place a blanket on the grass close to a large tree and have a family picnic, or when we meet for dinner with our friends or spouse at a restaurant. In addition, our study shows that, when people make conversations in these types of public spaces, these conversations are sometimes perceived as both safer and more confidential than meeting held in private spaces such as people’s homes. One common argument for this perception was the presence of other people and the feeling that conversations became private due to surrounding sound and noise. This feeling was reinforced by a common assumption that people nearby did not observe them or listen in on their conversations. As stated by one of the interviewees “I have a feeling of being more private since my words are lost in the crowds”.

Although monitoring in public spaces always needs to be clearly communicated, in relation with living lab studies, participants also need to explicitly consent to the monitoring. This is a challenging task when it comes to smart city installations because it is not possible to hand out consent forms to all potential citizens affected, and there is no overarching technology available through which this process can be managed. Once the technology was implemented, the attempt to gather citizens’ consent shifted to an attempt to inform everybody entering public spaces with implemented audio monitoring technology. It is therefore an overarching risk that collecting data in public spaces will invade on the people and the private spaces they create in seemingly public environments. In the EAR-IT project, we therefore decided to make sure that no private conversations would be possible to identify. This was a guiding rule when determining the quality of the sensors used as well as the number of sensors implemented and their positions.

When it comes to openness in relation to cultural norms and traditions, the concepts of space and place have also proved very valuable due to their focus on the general and the individual. Understanding cultural aspects and how they influence both the innovation process and its outcomes is one of the main reasons for international and EU funded projects. This involves a broad spectrum from national and organizational aspects to age, gender, and user group aspects. Finding ways to understand, share, and illustrate these differences as well as develop innovations that are able to address them is a major challenge. What people are open and prepared to share with other people can vary considerable due to differences in culture, gender, and age. In the EAR-IT project, we could detect national and cultural differences in the willingness to share personal data. People from France and Spain, for example, were generally more cautious of sharing private data compared to people from Sweden. They also queried more about the purpose of the collected data and the specific purpose influenced their willingness to share to a greater extent compared to people from Sweden. This difference can be illustrated by the following two quotations:

“I do not care what type of data different systems collect about me: I have nothing to hide” (Swedish respondent) and, “I want to know who is behind the data collection and for what purpose they collect and use it” (Spanish respondent). These national differences can be interpreted in many different ways based on different levels of privacy maturity, scepticism, privacy, etc. Regardless of interpretation, the selected the examples point to the importance of understanding different perspectives and their consequences on openness.

Vignette 2: Realism

In living labs, realism often refers to the endeavour of carrying out innovation processes in the context in which the innovation should be implemented as soon as it is mature and stable enough to handle the complexity of real, unsupervised, and uncontrolled use (Ballon & Schuurman, 2015). This task is usually accomplished through user tests and evaluations in real-world contexts, as co-creation activities in the real world, or as real-world observational studies. But, realism is not only related to implementing innovations in a real-world context, it is also a human state of mind. To illustrate this dimension of realism and its relation to the concepts of place and space, we use the DigiNews project, which aimed to design and evaluate the future electronic newspaper.

In the DigiNews project, the importance of realism was stressed in many different situations. One example was during the evaluation where an e-newspaper was used in users´ everyday life. An e-newspaper is a digital version of a newspaper presented on an e-reading device based on eInk technology, aimed at replacing the printed newspaper. In other words, it is comparable to a newspaper's website. The vision was a bendable A4-sized e-paper in full color, but in this project we used iRex iLiads (an e-reading device in an A5 size with only greyscale) – iPads and other similar devices were not available on the market at that time. The e-newspaper evaluated was a Swedish newspaper with two editions each day. One of the aspects important to evaluate was whether the e-newspaper could replace the printed newspaper in normal daily situations. We therefore encouraged the users not to read their printed newspaper, but instead bring the e-newspaper to the place they normally read their news, for example, the breakfast table, the bathroom, during their commute to work, or in the bed in the evening. The reaction was that the e-newspaper could almost replace the calm reading experience provided by a printed newspaper, which is opposite to the more "lean-forward" reading of the news websites. Some of the comments were: “I liked this format, even if it initially seemed a little small, it was quite good… I had it with me on the airplane and on the bus, and then this size was perfect” and “this feels very trustworthy, same style and layout as the printed newspaper, same brand... and the calmness, you have succeeded to bring that”.

Another aspect of realism in the DigiNews project was that almost all the newspaper content (except for obituaries and comics) was reformatted each day into two editions especially for the e-reader device in order to create a realistic experience during the evaluations. This lead to considerable more work at the newspaper, but also made it possible for the users to experience some of the added values with an e-newspaper, such as one morning edition and one evening edition, which was essential for the experience. 

The vision of the future e-newspaper was to keep the newspaper feeling but add more value for the readers, such as more pictures, graphics, video, and interactive features such as crosswords. Although the technology and available e-reading device did not support these features, three prototypes were designed together with newspapers, readers, and advertisers supporting this vision. These prototypes could only be tested on computers or tablets that did not support the actual newspaper feeling. Nevertheless, intensive evaluation provided indications to the design space of the future e-newspaper.

Given the limited time during the evaluation period and the limitations of the technology, it was not possible to state that the e-newspaper could replace the printed newspaper in the lives of users. However, given the realistic situation and the positive response from the users, there was a strong indication that it would be possible when the technology is there. At the same time, some users stated that a few features of the printed newspaper could never be replaced, such as the smell of print, the use of old newspapers for the cat litter box, etc. For them, it is not possible to transform the e-newspaper from space to place, because the printed newspaper had established a "taken for granted" position in their homes (places). There is an ongoing struggle among today’s newspapers to find new ways of transforming their digital products from people’s spaces into their places.

Vignette 3: Influence

Influence, as a key principle of living labs, highlight peoples’ right to impact innovations and changes that might affect them (Leminen & Westerlund, 2009) or the society in which they live. The rationale behind the principle is closely related to the main idea behind participatory design (Bergvall-Kåreborn et al., 2014), a Scandinavian approach to information systems development that originated in the 1960s (Bansler 1989; Björgvinsson et al. 2010).

Using the concepts of place and space to retrospectively analyze the theoretical and practical implications of influence in our living lab projects has highlighted the importance of innovation methods. The result of the analyses reinforces earlier research by pointing to the significance role of methods in forming spaces and places that facilitate or hinder user participation and influence. By using methods that give users the power to effectively describe their everyday context, co-create design scenarios, and evaluate physical and digital constructs, the communication between designers and users creates insights that can be transferred to the innovation space and enhance the innovation.

In the MyHealth‌@‌Age project, user influence was strived for on different levels. Following contemporary trends within innovation (such as user-driven innovation), we decided to define the participating elderly people as partners rather than users. The main reasons for this were that partners have formal decision powers and they have access to all the generated data, reports, and other forms of documentation. Defining the elderly participants as partners also affected the management and research component; it gave them a role in the writing of the research application and gave them the chance to be informed about existing environmental constraints (e.g., aim and focus of the selected call, given budget boundaries, and partnership constellations) as well as the opportunity to influence the boundaries of the project. Hence, instead of entering a predefined project space, this gave the elderly people a chance to bring their own needs and experiences into the project application and thereby become part of their private places.

Defining users as partners also had an effect on the methodology we selected: we wanted a methodology that would enable different types of partners to take charge. We therefore used the Form-IT methodology and methods such as narratives, cultural probes, and elderly driven activities. In our discussion with the elderly partners, it became clear that they did not want to participate using Internet technology: they wanted to meet in physical locations close to their homes. For them, the physical meetings became a new and positive part of their daily lives. This can be illustrated by the following statement by one of the elderly persons: “I really look forward to our project meetings. I attend many meetings that I feel I have to attend, but these meeting I really look forward to”. All of these decisions created a certain space for influence, and as the project progressed, this space was transformed into the MyHealth‌@‌Age project place.

Defining users as partners was not without complications, because they represented individual private persons and not formal juridical persons or organizations. Hence, in this respect, we were not able to fully transform the space for influence that we had created in the research application into an equally influential place for all the different stakeholder groups. Thus, it is important to consider whether all relevant stakeholders have the same opportunity to influence and how to give them a space in which their voice can be heard.

Conclusion

In this article, we have addressed the call to better understand the concept and the context of living labs and the methodologies for co-creating innovation (Ballon, 2015; Westerlund & Leminen, 2014). We have proposed the concepts of places and spaces (Schultze & Boland, 2000) as conceptual tools to facilitate the organization of innovation activities within living labs.

There is a large volume of literature on place and space, spanning extensive temporal space and diverse subjects such as geography, sociology, innovation and information systems, and philosophy. As is often the case in these situations, the concepts develops as their definitions and descriptions continuously adapt to different interpretations, cultural and philosophical trends, and the kernel of different subjects and challenges they presently face. To reduce the risk of getting caught up in philosophical discussions and standpoints related to the concepts, we have taken a rather pragmatic perspective and focused on the concepts as tools for understanding present-day innovation milieus and processes, and how they are shaped. Based on this pragmatic perspective, we have studied how the concepts of place and space are integrated in design situations and how different types of places and spaces can facilitate or hinder innovation.

The concepts of place and space are integrated in design situations in many different ways and on many different levels. For example, the concepts of space and place must be considered when selecting, mixing, and using innovation methods and tools in ways that generate general and scientific knowledge of the situation in focus, while at the same time assuring that the specific needs and requirements linked to certain user groups are not lost. On a more overall level, there are similar judgements to be made in relation to the vision of integrated and networked living labs throughout Europe with the specific national and cultural characteristics inherent in ideation, development, test, and implementation activities at different sites participating in a project.

Revisiting the concept of openness, including the concepts of place and space, we can conclude that a person's willingness and possibility to contribute with data is highly influenced by the technology surrounding them. Currently, technologies are become increasingly ubiquitous and pervasive; they weave themselves into the fabric of our everyday spaces in ways that were not possible a few years ago. This integration with technology has an impact on how open people want to be, and can be. Sometimes, people are open and share data about themselves because they are naïve and at other times people do not know that they share data openly; thus, their personal space can be invaded due to the technical implementation in their space.

When is comes to realism, we can conclude that implementing and testing innovations in different places and spaces is of vital importance to fully understand the impact and the suitability of the innovation in its real context. This study reveals that places are important carriers of local knowledge and insights from which can be used to further the development of the innovation. In addition, real places contribute with insights that make it possible for users to include the innovation in their personal space and the landscape of technologies. How different types of places and spaces facilitate or hinder innovation is also a multifaceted question. Here, it is important to understand that different real-world contexts and places offer different spaces for innovation.

The same is also true for influence, where a place for influence can be instantiated in the different methods that are used to support user influence in living lab processes while the different methods used also support different spaces for innovation. Some methods support a narrow focus and put emphasis on, for instance, requirement engineering, whereas other methods have a broader scope and emphasize understanding of the context in which users act and use innovations. Hence, by using different methods, the users’ space for innovation alters and can move from a small space, such as checking requirements, to a large space, such as influencing what innovation is to be developed through need-finding studies and co-design. Hence, by understanding the differing spaces the methods supports, living lab managers can make more informed decisions and plans for innovation activities.

To conclude, we have found that, by applying openness, realism, and influence in the different spaces of our living lab milieus, they have transformed into many different places depending on the stakeholders involved, the methods chosen, and the facilitation provided by researchers or managers. Therefore, the managers of living labs need to consciously design their physical and digital spaces and places in accordance with the purpose of the activity carried out. Further research is needed to understand how digital technologies affect innovation milieus and processes, not just in relation to digital and physical locations, but also in relation to local and global, as well as private and public, spaces and places.

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the XXVI International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM) Conference – Shaping the Frontiers of Innovation Management, Budapest, Hungary, 14–17 June, 2015.

 


 

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Keywords: influence, Living lab, openness, place, realism, space

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