Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise

Living Lab

Living Lab for Innovating Relationships, Newcastle University

Developed by a team based in KITE, Living Lab at Newcastle University is part of a wider European network. It aims to solve problems facing businesses and communities through collaboration and partnership building.

How many times in business do we really search for the correct solution? Sometimes in business we can look to solve deep rooted problems through creating a new product or buying some new software, but rarely do we sit down and discuss how we are ‘getting on’.

About Living Lab

Living Lab provides organisations with the ability to put their relationships with employees, partners and customers first. By analysing fundamental interactions it can help innovative solutions and better ways of getting stuff done.

It is part of a wider European network, and represents a creative and innovative approach to complex problems. Many of the challenges facing our businesses and communities can seem difficult and intractable. Taking a Living Lab approach can evolve thinking and adaptation in response to new pressures and expectations to deliver workable solutions for complex, multi-faceted – or ‘wicked’ – problems.

Our vision of the Lab is of a sustainable, collaborative entity offering a resource:

  • for partnership building
  • innovation
  • the initiation of applied research with partners (potential and future)

Living Lab Director, Professor Rob Wilson, explains that Living Lab is 'about relationship building and having deeper conversations'.

Our governance process will be designed to ensure Living Lab is an accessible, shared resource which supports Newcastle University’s core values of engagement with the community and the economy. We'll also ensure research fits within the cross-cutting themes of Social Renewal, Ageing and Sustainability.

The Living Lab intervention, which has been developed by a team based at KITE represents a unique synthesis of:

  • co-production
  • learning
  • sense-making theories.

This is achieved via a participatory projection oriented approach in which complex socio-technical systems can be envisaged, modelled and specified. This has been developed, over more than a decade, through a programme of externally funded research and third strand work. This has included funding from EPSRC, EU Framework, DCLG, Innovate UK, Newcastle University and Higher Education Innovation Funding - HEIF. It has resulted in a set of first generation tools and methods together with a growing body of theory and applied experience in areas as diverse as planning for climate change to the deployment of smartcards to designing marketplaces for adult social care.

The contexts of transformation, innovation and partnership across organisational, cultural and disciplinary boundaries closely match the challenges facing the University. This includes internal challenges in maintaining and developing its research base, and external challenges in its local engagements and wider partnerships.

The ability to initiate internal and external collaboration and partnership are a core business requirement of a research-led university while creating and sustaining collaborative structures and mechanisms are its most significant means of acting within and as a part of wider communities.

What Living Lab offers

Living Lab offers a:

  • set of tools and facilities associated with visualisation animation and synchronised juxtaposition of models and of data sets (a multi-screen PowerPoint facility)
  • consultancy/facilitation platform to address complex problem-solving and innovation involving mutual sense making, the formation of new partnerships and understandings between participants/clients
  • training and capacity building offer which produced accredited consultant/facilitators
  • multi-disciplinary project support service which delivers the dissemination and exploitation components of complex large scale research projects

The core value in this proposition rests in the theory, practice and body of content that has been generated in the decade of development and use of the Living Lab. This is in line with previous projects eg Durham and Darlington Electronic Health Record and the Framework for Multi-agency Environment: FAME project, which have generated much of the valuable theory and current practice in the lab.

Our intent is to use a series of spaces and occasions for the innovation of inter-organisational relationships as an essential part of the shaping of complex services of the types outlined above.

Taking this approach is analogous to information system development approaches such as soft systems (Checkland, 1988) ‘bricolage’ (Badham and Ehn 2000), ‘co-creation’ (Hartswood et al. 2002) and ‘co-production’ (Wilson et al. 2012; McLoughlin et al. 2012; McLoughlin and Wilson 2013) that emphasise the emergent reality of systems and their lack of determinacy as a social practice (Garudet al. 2008).

The challenge is to collaboratively build this experience to address the need to build capacity by creating a second generation of tools for use by partners.

The Living Lab at Newcastle University is a registered member of the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL).

Further information

For more information, contact:

Professor Rob Wilson
Email: rob.wilson@ncl.ac.uk