The Fostering Digital Participation Project builds on the foundations of the emerging social living lab methodology. The idea of living labs emerged in Europe during the mid-2000s as instruments to measure the benefits of innovation in competitive and innovation-based economies. From the beginning, living labs have aimed to involve multiple stakeholders at every point of a living lab life cycle, particularly the end-users of a product or innovation. This has meant that producers, users, researchers, and other community stakeholders have worked closely within well-defined spaces and time-frames in order to produce the most beneficial and meaningful outcomes for all stakeholders. The ground-breaking Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Living Lab is frequently cited as a model for new initiatives, but the most recent developments have emerged in Europe under the auspices of the European Network of Living Labs. The majority of living labs world-wide operate as product-based tech laboratories, but these are now being joined by a growing number of socially oriented living labs that seek to address socio-spatial research questions.

Socially oriented living labs provide a model for addressing a variety of everyday human problems within small and large communities:

The general approach includes catchwords such as empowerment, participation or co-creation and provides an open, participatory and do-it-yourself environment that includes citizens (users) and local actors (producers) as agents in processes of co-creation and improved living spaces. (Franz 2015, 56)

A social living lab is usually conducted within an existing space that facilitates collaboration between researchers, citizens and other stakeholders, ultimately leading to positive outcomes that improve the lives of participants. Libraries, community halls and other social spaces provide a productive setting for stakeholders to gather and collaborate on solving problems in the local vernacular.

At its core, a social living lab aims to generate a public good by involving the most relevant stakeholders in the process of planning, implementation, evaluation, and growth. The Fostering Digital Participation Project gathers researchers, organisations, public institutions, and individuals within particular local spaces in order to address issues related to the various levels of digital participation in regional and rural communities. Within these spaces, stakeholders are empowered to co-create and innovate through the use of digital technology, ultimately producing scenarios that exhibit improvements in both digital and social skills.

Further reading:

Franz, Yvonne, and Pieter Ballon. (2015). “Designing Social Living Labs in Urban Research.” info 17, no. 4.

Schuurman, Dimitri, Lieven De Marez, and Pieter Ballon. (2015). “Living Labs: A Systematic Literature Review.” Paper presented at the ENoLL Research Day.

What is a Social Living Lab? Responses from Participants at the Symposium and Workshop, ‘Social Living Labs for Digital Participation: Designing with Regional and Rural Communities’: