SOGOLAS Research Seminar 20.11.2019: Katri-Liis Reimann about Social Inovation and Living Labs

November 20th took place SOGOLAS Research Seminar with Katri-Liis Reimann as the speaker. Her presentation was about innovation, especially about the emerging popular concept of Living Lab. The presentation was mainly about the understanding of theoretical concepts and how concepts are used in practice and the current projects working.


What is a Living Lab? Have you ever heard about it?

It is a research and open innovation concept, which deals with a user-centered approach and operates in a territorial context. Territorial context means that you can see Living Lab as a district of the city or its region, where innovators try to test and validate simultaneously, for instance, how to economize energy, but at the same time, people live there. The most important aspects of Living Lab are users as key players, they are actively involved and real-life environments. This kind of co-creation and cooperation are crucial. 

Speaking about the notion of innovation and its theoretical part, there are various types of innovation, including Social innovation, which concerns most likely the Living Lab idea. The concept of Social innovation lies down in the motivation of innovation activities and services induced by the goal of meeting a social need. For instance, the World Cleanup Day launched in Estonia might be a perfect example of Living Lab, which is focused on environmental protection. The great success of this innovation is determined by foreign support of this idea. Nowadays, The World Cleanup Day is actively developed and inherited in other countries.

It is important to note, that the process of innovation is long-term and consists of different stages starting from the identification of the problem and the idea to solve it and finishing with a clear advanced strategy based on the tested pilot or ideally with fully-developed and tested innovation. Every stage of the process contains development, as the innovation constantly gets improvements and is in the process of evolution.

Although, when it comes to the implementation, the path is always not simple. Management of Living Lab requires a favorable environment for innovation, but for this, a lot of prerequisites need to be there as a legal policy framework, social impact measurement, financial aspect (investments), support organizations, physical infrastructures, professionally skilled people, R&D institutions. All these aspects are equally significant and are needed for innovation to happen. Other barriers could be obstacles as cooperation culture, political agendas.

Financial inflow is always on the agenda of any innovation. As who will invest and support the project promotion? One of the financial mechanism is applied, which is called Social Impact Bond. This practical mechanism is seen as a new way to renew public services. This model is presented as the mitigation risk model with the main financial support of investors, not local authorities. As local authorities are not willing to take a risk in the public sector. 

So, the criteria of Living Lab are focused on users and innovation that starts from the people and with the people, innovations are open in terms of sharing the knowledge, real-life context. 

ProvaHealth Project is one of the projects which was launched to improve the health of people as a macro-goal. There are 14 Living Labs in Baltics Sea Region, so the micro-goal of the project is to create better collaboration between Health Living Labs in the Baltic Sea Region. 
One of the problems of the Living Lab concept is that it is still rather unknown among organizations. Also, challenges with which the Living Lab meets often are the trust between the users and who carry out the experiment, resource allocation, and barriers mentioned above. 
One of the examples of Living Lab is the hackathon which has been practiced and studied as a co-creation method in Võru County in the CoSIE project. There are piloted social hackathons, in order to find solutions to the problem of standardized services that do not meet everyone’s needs. 

The presentation has evoked different emotions from the audience. Some of the guests were enthusiastic by the Living Lab concept and have seen its potential and advantages. But there is always a group of people with a controversial point of view. This case was not an exception. As disputes came up amongst the traditional practitioners, who were disputing the usefulness of the Living Lab, its blurred measurement of the impact.
They argued that innovation is a significant improvement, but it is not easy to identify clear evidence of that improvement. The evidence of improvement is hard to pursue. Indeed, the impact can be evidenced in the long term, as it is hard to measure. The medical sphere is one of the easiest spheres where the improvement, the impact is traced clearly. So, the lack of evidence of the innovation impact was noticed by the traditional practitioners as a big drawback. 

All in all, there were some participants who were rather suspicious regarding the new model of Social Impact Bond, the numerous barriers of the innovation in order to be developed and implemented in other countries. But there were also these who recognized the new way of problem-solving, the uniqueness of the Living Lab. 

Written by Valeriia Stelmakova (SOGOLAS Liberal Arts BA student and intern in SOGOLAS R&D administrative team in autumn semester 2019/20)

Slideshow of the presentation can be found HERE