Living labs: cities and citizens at the core in shaping the cities of the future

Last week, our colleague Jordi Casas, City Development and Public Funding Officer, led a session on Living Labs at the ITS European Congress. What is the work EIT Urban Mobility is doing in this regard? How are we helping France, Denmark, Germany and Italy amongst others to implement living labs? What is the living labs methodology we follow at EIT Urban Mobility? These were, amongst others, the topics discussed during the session. If you want to learn more, you just have to scroll down!

“For EIT Urban Mobility, living labs are instrumental for testing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating new and innovative mobility solutions. Our Living labs knowledge base platform is a collection of both living lab learning practices and management tools. While the learning practices are initiatives that can function as an inspiration for other living labs, the management tools are a collection of best practices, recommendations on how to set up and operate a mobility living lab, how to upscale, allow for citizens engagement, co-create with the end user, and evaluate impacts”. Jordi Casas Juan, City Development and Public Funding Officer

From our organisation, we focus on:

  • Real-life environment: Experiments in living labs take place in an uncontrolled real-life setting, in the daily environment of their end-users, which can have a scale of a house, a street, a neighbourhood, but also a city or a travel corridor.
  • A living lab requires the active engagement of representatives from public authorities (e.g., local/ regional/ national authorities), industry (e.g., startups, SMEs, etc.), academia (e.g., universities and research institutes) and civil society (e.g. associations, groups of citizens, etc.) within one innovation ecosystem. In a quadruple helix cooperation model, the focus is shifted from expert-driven innovation towards user-centric innovation.
  • Co-creation: Trying to aligning the objectives of the parties involved enhancing the participation of the end-users in the development of the final products and services. In this cooperative process the involved stakeholders, and particularly the end-users, can influence the experimentation from its ideation phase, increasing their acceptance of the developed innovation and, thus, the chances of their uptake. In fact, this is the p of our Citizen Engagement programme, aimed at testing innovative methodologies and technologies for engagement such as Digital Twins, online engagement platforms and gamified apps.
  • Active end-user involvement: In a living lab environment, end-users meet in real life contexts and share experiences, while envisioning their own future. Living Labs consider citizens not only as users or consumers in a narrow sense, but as direct contributors to or co-creators of new products and services. Involving end-users in different stages of the innovation process and fostering sustained exchanges between different stakeholders have proved to be a differentiating factor in an increasingly competitive world.
  • Multi-method approach: in our co-funded projects and pilots in living lab environments we foster the involvement of multidisciplinary competences, encouraging an unprecedented combination of skills, people, equipment, companies, settings, etc.

The living lab methodology methodology:

  • prioritises citizens needs in the design, testing, implementation and adoption of new interventions;
  • welcomes rapid prototyping and provides ideal conditions for innovation;
  • fosters a multidisciplinary approach that draws on expertise and experience from several sectors as well as citizens;
  • ensures that private, public and research stakeholders collaborate and invest time, money and human resources, in the project.

Success stories of Living labs

During a session we recently held at the ITS European Congress, four living labs demonstrated best practices that could help other European cities to improve the quality of life for residents and streamline mobility systems and processes to reduce environmental impacts as well as costs.

In France, Toulouse Métropole is implementing Vilagil, a cross-sectorial project financed by the French government as part of the Plan France 2030. The ambition of all initiatives under the umbrella of Vilagil is to achieve decarbonization by supporting an innovative urban mobility sector in the Toulouse area. Vilagil is investing approximately €165 million euro in nine investment projects and six research projects.

EIT Urban Mobility is supporting Toulouse Métropole in achieving this ambition by promoting several projects and initiatives in this area. On the one hand, attracting world-class entrepreneurs to test their innovative solutions in living lab pilots co-funded by the RAPTOR and ChallengeMyCity Programmes. On the other hand, supporting UAM Plazza, the programme that is working closely with the most promising start-ups in the field of Urban Air Mobility.

Further north, the DOLL living lab is situated in an industrial area on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark, to minimise the impact on residents. Initially establishing smart street lighting in 2014, the DOLL living lab also creates interventions in sensor-activated outdoor lighting, intelligent traffic systems and conducts environmental monitoring. The lab welcomes cities and public authorities to visit the lab and learn more about how it could assist them to improve their public spaces.

Meanwhile, the City of Munich, Germany, also promotes a living labs approach. They see this as integral to innovation and advancing digitisation of urban mobility, to see what can be replicated in other locations, and help make better financial decisions by understanding costs and benefits of proposed interventions. In fact, a wide range of EIT Urban Mobility’ supported activities are helping the City of Munich in reaching these objectives. For instance, the innovation projects WalCycData, CLEAR and AITraWell, that executed pilots with a living lab approach last year in different neighbourhoods of the Bavarian capital.

The City of Munich are using living labs to understand possible scenarios that could help achieve their overall goals such as having 30% of all trips taken by public transport, reach climate neutrality by 2030, and have no deaths caused by vehicles in line with the Vision Zero initiative.

At the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy, public and private partners actively engage citizens to co-create future mobility solutions. Their work represents an integrated approach by external entities and other projects including scientific projects and direct requests by partner European Commission services. Since 2021, EIT Urban Mobility is collaborating with the JRC and the Hellenic Institute for Transport (CERTH-HIT) in the working group on urban mobility living labs of the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL).